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HP's TouchPad Matches iPad 2's Price, but It Really Needs Apps. Lots of Apps

It looks like HP's (HPQ) TouchPad will match the iPad 2's $499 price when it launches this summer. However, HP will need to do a lot more to convince customers to buy its unproven tablet over Apple's (APPL) best-selling device. In particular, it needs a much bigger app store.
The TouchPad would be HP's first foray into the tablet race after its acquisition of Palm last year. A leaked sales document has the device coming out this June for $499 (a $599 model with a larger hard drive will also be available). If HP sticks to this plan, it will overcome one of the biggest Apple advantages: Price. As this BNET overview of tablets shows, the iPad 2 is significantly cheaper than the closest competition, the $599-$799 Motorola (M) Xoom.

Last month HP announced that its new mobile devices would use webOS, Palm's proprietary operating system. The goal is to create a "walled garden" much like that of its rival Apple, which would encourage users to only use HP products. The rub, of course, is that HP's apps have to be good enough to convince users to forsake those available for other devices (namely iPad and Android tablets). Unfortunately, webOS has only a few thousand apps compared to Apple's hundreds of thousands.

My BNET colleague Erik Sherman articulated the problem:

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.

There has been zero talk about what exclusive apps the HP mobile devices will carry. In short, HP can't entice users to commit to its products without showing how useful its apps will be across multiple HP platforms, but it can't encourage developers to develop for these platforms without showing a significant userbase compared to Apple. Chicken, meet egg.

It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the smartest things HP could do would be to push multiplatform development. IdeaWorks has a multi-device platform, Airplay, that makes it easier to develop apps simultaneously for Apple's iOS, Google (GOOG) Android, and HP's webOS.

In other words, HP shouldn't worry about developers creating exclusively for webOS; it needs to worry about getting developers to write software for webOS, period. Once the TouchPad has a competitive slate of apps, then HP can work on enticing developers to write exclusively for its platform.

Photo courtesy of HP

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