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HP Says Goodbye to Microsoft and Rolls Out Its webOS Walled Garden

Many have expected HP (HPQ) to announce a webOS-powered tablet in the company's event today. And it did: the TouchPad, as well as a credit card-sized phone and the Pre 3 smartphone, aimed at business use. However, more important than the products and associated offerings from business partners was the strategy.

HP wants to create a mesh of interconnecting devices, from smartphones and tablets to printers and even desktops and laptops. That would create a walled garden of such expanse as to make Apple (AAPL) green with envy. Could the company pull it off, technically? Yup. Can it sell the concept to enough consumers to make it work? Not so clear.

There were three products that HP actually announced today:

  • The Veer is a credit card-sized phone with a slide-down keyboard, support for many handset standard features, and the ability to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
  • The Pre 3 has double the display resolution of the Pre 2, 1.4 GHz processor, 5 megapixel camera, forward-facing camera for video conferencing, and HD video recording.
  • The (literally) biggest product of the three is the TouchPad, a 1.6 pound, 9.7 inch display tablet with stereo speakers, as well as Flash support and, intelligently, a vertical stand and keyboard.
  • Figure that all three webOS devices have the requisite number of interface bells and whistles. The value that HP hopes will court millions of customers is the way the devices can interconnect. For example, they work with HP's Touchstone wireless dock to recharge. In addition, Touchstone lets them interchange information and even functions. If a text message comes in on the Pre 3, you can take it through the TouchPad. Any of the devices will print to HP printers.

    HP wants to move toward letting customers move whatever they want to do seamlessly among HP devices using HP services. That would tie them to HP's platforms. A cornerstone for the strategy is an HP service called Synergy, which syncs data between devices and cloud storage. Put Synergy on more devices and then all your information is potentially available on any of them.

    But, can HP sell all this to consumers? Perhaps, and it has undertaken other smart moves. HP will let publishers have their own subscription plans and not force them to sell through the company, as an Apple might.

    And yet, HP faces significant problem. The interconnectedness is the type of capability that you need to use over some time to really appreciate it. Because this is HP's walled garden, other devices need not apply. If customers don't already have multiple devices from the company, they don't get the experience and may not buy even more HP gear. Then again, even if it doesn't take over the world, it's likely to result in at least some additional sales.

    The other irksome issue is Microsoft. By saying that it plans to bring webOS to desktops and laptops, HP has sent a strong signal to that, in the long run, it doesn't need Windows. If HP does move strongly in that direction, it would both drive use of the cloud and help Microsoft's relevance decline even more quickly.

    More minor, but sure to eventually make people at HP pound their heads into a wall is the tablet's name. TouchPad? Given that it's also the name of the touch sensitive areas of laptops and notebooks, do you have any idea how many references there are on the web? About 8.8 million, according to Google. So much for having people go off on wild search goose chases.

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    Image: HP