HP tablet hobbled by lack of WebOS apps

If platform-specific apps are as important to tablet users as they are to smartphone fans, HP will face an uphill battle.

Now that Hewlett-Packard has announced plans to release a webOS tablet early next year, its next big goal--in addition to building the device--is to persuade software developers to write apps for the mobile gadget. Given the early popularity of Apple's iPad, as well as the imminent arrival of numerous tablets running Google's Android OS, that task could prove challenging.

HP bought Palm in April for US$1.2 billion, primarily for the smartphone maker's webOS operating system. Critically acclaimed when it debuted in January 2009, webOS earned kudos for its elegant design and sophisticated features. Sadly, it had the misfortune of being paired with the Palm Pre, a very good smartphone that couldn't compete against the Apple iPhone, a growing number of Android handsets, and the rest of the mobile pack.

The Pre's main weakness? A lack of mobile apps, which were quickly becoming a huge draw for smartphone users. While the Pre's App Catalog had some worthy offerings, it was losing a numbers game to the iPhone, which hosted tens of thousands of more apps. The Pre got slaughtered.

Tablets Are Coming

As HP prepares to launch its webOS tablet, the app battle is even more daunting. Apple's iOS App Store has in excess of 225,000 applications, and the Android Market has more than 70,000. Of course, the vast majority of those iOS apps aren't written specifically for Apple's tablet. But the iPad's proven popularity is a certainly drawing card for developers.

And Android? Again, those 70K apps may not be tailored for a tablet's larger display, but the sheer number of Android tablets coming soon (from multiple manufacturers) is a bound to lure coders.

The webOS tablet, by comparison, is a single tablet from a single company--albeit a company that happens to be the largest computer manufacturer in the world. If platform-specific apps are as important to tablet users as they are to smartphone fans--and we're talking about a pretty similar demographic here--HP has a big challenge on its hands.

Of course, a webOS failure wouldn't hurt HP all that much. The behemoth plans to ship a Windows 7 tablet for the business market, and it certainly has the resources to launch an Android slate (or two) if the webOS tablet fizzles. But given Hewlett-Packard's sizable investment in webOS, it's unlikely that HP will bail on Palm's prized OS anytime soon.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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