Campbell: HP releases iPad rival

By Donald Campbell

A few months ago, Apple officially announced the development of a new tablet…

A few months ago, Apple officially announced the development of a new tablet device called the iPad, and just last week, HP announced its rival product — the Slate.

Apple’s plan, as described by some, would revolutionize the way users interface with a computer — many would no longer require a laptop. The plan also has its critics, some of whom describe it as an oversized iPod with few redeeming qualities.

Either way, most of the initial press treated it as a unique device with no real competition in its marketplace. Recent motions by both Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft have challenged this outlook.

Aimed at directly competing with the iPad, HP has grown vocal about its own in-development tablet. HP insists that its tablet has been in development longer and is superior to the iPad.

A recent New York Times article suggests HP is raising a surprisingly vast stink over its new product. Many believe it is merely a ploy to capitalize on the first generation iPad’s already-identified weaknesses and will ultimately come to nothing.

According to HP, the device, known as “Slate,” has been in development since before Apple officially announced the iPad.

It will sport a similar physical look and feel while attempting to imitate the performance and features of a laptop, including running Windows 7. HP hopes that the desktop operating system, complete with the Flash support and multitasking features users have come to expect, will ultimately beat the iPad.

The iPad has shunned Flash support as too resource heavy and runs a modified iPod operating system with only limited multitasking support.

The blogosphere, and primarily the pro-Apple lobby, have been rather dismissive about the threat from HP. Until recently, HP had not fully released specifications for the new device. Many were content to label the Slate “vaporware,” indicating HP will continue to promise, but will never actually deliver, the Slate.

Many believe that HP will not be able to create a device that is as efficient or as streamlined as Apple’s iPad while maintaining Flash and multitasking support through Windows 7.

Another layer of reality came to the iPad challenge on March 8, however, when HP successfully demoed the Flash support features of the Slate.

The Slate does indeed support multitasking — as it runs Windows 7. It is, more or less, a small form factor tablet-enabled laptop.

HP pointed out from this demo that the Slate is perfectly capable of supporting Flash without the catastrophic difficulties Steve Jobs of Apple predicted would plague the Slate.

HP claims that the doomsday Flash claims are avoided by using some mystical hardware trickery — the hardware makes execution of Flash content more efficient.

Some on the Apple-versus-non-Apple rivalry rumor mill say that Apple is genuinely worried about the HP Slate.

If HP is ultimately able to produce a more feature-rich product at a lower price, the iPad could be relegated to ownership by only the most Apple-loyal.

It is well known that when a computer manufacturer produces a truly niche product, it stands a very good chance of failing to turn a profit.

If Apple is indeed worried for its new product, users might be less worried for Apple.

A perusal of comments on the New York Times article shows that many who initially liked the iPad remain loyal despite a threat from HP. Some like the idea of having a “simpler” device running the iPod OS and would rather not have another machine running an operating system intended for the desktop.

There was the healthy smattering of those who would object to any device designed to run Microsoft Windows, especially if that device was developed as a streamlined computing machine with the speed and responsiveness of a smartphone.

Still others refused to accept that an HP demo proved the HP concept legitimate. Those posting comments continued to insist that HP would ultimately fail to mount a long-lasting challenge to Apple’s iPad.

Many posters pointed out the fact that upon Apple’s release of its first iPhone, users objected to the device’s design and OS features.

Apple addressed many of these criticisms in future iterations of the device and, despite early rabble-rousing, managed to produce a thoroughly popular, successful and profitable product.

Perhaps the demos and the fact that HP has been uncharacteristically assertive in its announcements regarding the Slate will ultimately prove to be early signs of the iPad’s doom.

Perhaps HP’s rumblings are side effects of HP attempting to push an underdeveloped product against Apple’s solution that is already scheduled for release.

HP’s behavior is, certainly, a sign that Apple is in for some criticism of its iPad design decisions. Only time will tell if Apple will falter or triumph and if the iPad will prove to be a long-lasting commercial success.