HP Joins the Ranks of Vendors with Overpriced iPad Competitors

Last Updated Oct 22, 2010 12:34 PM EDT

Welcome to the ranks of companies peddling overpriced, would-be rivals to Apple's (AAPL) iPad, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)! Just a couple of days ago, Samsung and Verizon (VZ) announced that the carrier would sell the anticipated Galaxy Tab at list price of $600 -- a full $100 more than the $499 low-end iPad. Now HP will release the HP Slate 500 for $799 -- again, $100 more than the roughly equivalent iPad.

In lieu of marketing, we now see technology machismo expressed as "my price is bigger than yours." Samsung and HP have now demonstrated their lack of understanding what consumers might want from tablets. At this rate, the iPad will remain at the top of the heap for some time to come.

Samsung clearly needed to please Verizon, which -- of course -- would want a 3G option in any tablet it sold. If not, how else would it get consumers to potentially buy a monthly data plan? Let's not forget what business the carrier is actually in. As a result, the Galaxy Tab can't match the price of the low-end iPad that only supports Wi-Fi Internet connections.

HP's approach is apparently to create a laptop in tablet form. Running Windows 7, the Slate 500 supposedly gets five hours of battery life, has Wi-Fi support but no 3G wireless broadband option, and comes with a stylus. A stylus! As Reuters reports:

Carol Hess-Nickels, director of business notebook marketing at HP, emphasized the Slate's business utility. She expects retail, healthcare and insurance companies, among others, to build custom applications that take advantage of the device's portability."It's really like a full-function PC, it runs Windows, it will run your office applications, it just so happens to be in a slate form factor," Hess-Nickels said.
So, it's aimed at business users who need Office, but runs on an Atom processor. Why not call it a netbook without a keyboard?

Even on an Atom processor, Microsoft Office can work respectably. (I use a similarly equipped netbook and installed Office, so I speak from experience.) However, the company has turned this into an industrial machine for specialized markets.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that. Such verticals as healthcare and transportation (think of a FedEx or UPS driver) use such devices. But not with Office. They are meant for applications tailored to mobile users with specific needs. Unless Windows 7 has a marvelous native screen keyboard, this will be a non-starter for a more general audience.

If anything, it looked as though vendors might drive a tablet price war, and in a way, they are. Just in the opposite direction from what you'd expect.

Given the generally high regard the iPad has garnered, this move will only give most consumers, and a lot of business users, an excuse to stay with Apple's products. The clumsy combinations of features, the relatively high prices, the incomprehension as to what most people, including business users, actually want from a tablet -- all these send the simple but mind-boggling message that consumers should buy Apple. When you factor in its new laptops with touch interfaces, it's clear that Apple is the only company that bothered to try understanding what people wanted and created a line of products to satisfy them.

Will other hardware vendors get a clue? Maybe, long after they gave Steve Jobs what he's always wanted: a chance to completely dominate the client computing market on his own terms.

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Image: Flickr user merfam, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.