If Hewlett-Packard has delayed the release of an Android-based tablet as reported, then the computer maker has likely decided to direct additional resources to the development of an iPad-competing slate computer powered by HP's recently acquired WebOS.
Quoting sources in the know, All Things Digital reported Thursday that HP has postponed the Android device expected in the fourth quarter of the year. The site said the slate computer won't ship this year and HP's reasons for the delay were unclear.
HP on Friday declined comment. "At this time we’re not sharing information on future products, operating systems or roadmaps beyond what we’ve already released," the company said in a statement e-mailed to InformationWeek.
Assuming the report is on the mark, then HP is likely making good on its promise to expand WebOS well beyond its smartphone roots. The company took possession of the mobile operating system through the $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm, which HP completed in July.
In announcing plans for the purchase in April, HP said it would take WebOS, a strong competitor in terms of features to Apple's iOS in iPhone and iPad, to many devices. "Palm's innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP's mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile connected devices," Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP's Personal Systems Group, said.
Indeed, HP chief executive Mark Hurd told Wall Street analysts during a conference call in May that the company planned to build the WebOS into a "a variety of form factors, including slate computers and Web-connected printers." While HP hasn't said when it would release a WebOS tablet, one is expected this year.
Sidelining an Android device makes sense given the fact that the Google-developed OS is not as mature as the WebOS and isn't yet suitable for slate computers. One major shortcoming is in screen resolution. Android supports a maximum resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, which is fine for a smartphone display, but insufficient for a much larger slate screen.
What impact HP's WebOS focus will have on the company's development of a Windows 7-based tablet introduced by Microsoft in January is also unknown. Little has been said about the device since its introduction, but HP has dismissed reports of the device's demise as "rumors and speculation."
Still, as the acquisition of Palm has shown, HP plans to cut its own path in the emerging portable computer market, taking on Apple and other device makers on its own. But one area that will be pivotal to HP's success, besides the quality of the hardware, will be in the number of applications available for a WebOS tablet.
Key to Apple's success with the iPad has been the amount of software built for the device by third-party developers. Thousands of apps are available on Apple's App Store for the iPad, placing the computer maker well ahead of potential rivals in building a developer-driven ecosystem around the device.