HP TouchPad: what we know, what we don't
If there was on thing we were all but certain we would see at HP’s Think Beyond event, it was the long rumored, hinted, and outright spoken-of PalmPad tablet. Turns out it’s actually to be called the HP TouchPad, and it’s the webOS answer to the Apple iPad. In many physical respects the two tablets are quite similar: a 9.7-inch 1024x768 screen dominates the front of the device, it measures just 13 mm thick, and weighs in at just over 1.5 pounds. But that’s where the similarities end: the TouchPad packs Touch-to-Share compatibility, Touchstone charging, a front-facing camera for video calls, Beats Audio stereo speakers, and, oh yeah, webOS 3.0.
What we know:
At first glance there’s not much to the HP TouchPad. As the first webOS tablet, it’s basic black: a big 9.7-inch screen (18-bit IPS) with a 1024x768 resolution. The whole front is faced with a big sheet of chemically-hardened Gorilla Glass from Corning, and the entire back is comprised of a glossy black plastic shell. We can’t speak for rigidity here, as all the TouchPads at Think Beyond were pre-production units. A small button with the familiar webOS light bar (present on every webOS device since the Pixi) sits at the bottom, though there is no gesture area to be found here.
A 1.3 megapixel camera sits at the top of the display, though there is no camera around back like we’ve seen on so many recently announced Android tablets. But back to that button - it’s of the clicky type (with no gesture area, there’s no touch sensitivity outside the display) and is also the location of the Touch-to-Share communication coil used to communicate with devices like the HP Pre 3. There’s a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, volume rocker on the right side, two Beats Audio-enhanced stereo speakers on the left (for when you go landscape for movies) and a micro-USB port at the bottom. It’s a very minimalist design, and very clearly takes a lot of design inspiration from the iPad.
Under that shiny black exterior you’ll find a brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060, a dual-core processor clocked at 1.2 GHz. To make sure there’s enough space for everything to zip along smoothly, the TouchPad also has a full gigabyte of RAM and will come with choices of 32GB or 64GB for storage. There’s your standard compliment of sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, and compass), Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi b/g/n, and GPS. And if you’re worried about what’s going to keep all this powered, it’s a beastly 6300 mAh battery.
The TouchPad runs HP’s new webOS 3.0 operating system, which was designed with the flexibility of the tablet form factor in mind. Practically every core webOS app has been (or will) be updated with 3.0, but we’ll cover that in depth in another article.
HP has also started to build an ecosystem of accessories for the TouchPad. First up is a new big-size Touchstone for the TouchPad, packing a more powerful charging coil. In fact, the new TouchPad Touchstone is more stand than the podium of the smaller smartphone Touchstones, and as such can be adjusted to work at different angles, from nearly upright to practically flat. With Exhibition still present in webOS 3.0, it’ll make for turning the TouchPad into a very versatile desktop companion. There’s also a case for the TouchPad that wraps around the edges and has a flap to cover that big screen. The flab can be tucked into a notch on the back to prop the TouchPad up for easier two-handed desk-borne typing, and the back is thin enough that it will permit charging on the Touchstone stand. Lastly there’s a webOS-specific Bluetooth keyboard, which is a slim and sexy affair with a full complement of webOS-specific buttons (such as what looks like a card view button).
What we don’t know:
For all we know about the HP TouchPad, there’s still an awful many questions whose answers we do not know. For one, there’s the specific launch date. HP says that they have planned for availability this “summer,” but that vague seasonal launch timeframe gives them a lot of wiggle room, as does “planned.”
And then there’s price, which we hope and assume HP will ensure is competitive with what will be the second generation iPad by the time the TouchPad comes out, as well as a smorgasbord of Android tablets of all shapes and sizes. When it comes to selling devices like the Veer and Pre 3, HP will have the help of the carriers, their stores, and their networks to do much of the heavy lifting, though HP has promised an all-out marketing campaign to make sure we’re all fully aware of the rebirth of webOS.
But what of marketing the TouchPad? HP has made much of their scale, and indeed they do monopolize a lot of shelf space at retailers like Best Buy all around the United States, but so does Apple, who has set up mini Apple Stores inside Best Buy locations. The marketing blitz for the TouchPad has already begun, even though the tablet is months from availability.
And speaking of the carriers, there’s still that question of if or when we’ll see a cellular version of the TouchPad. HP only announced the Wi-Fi version of the TouchPad, but if and Touch-to-Share devices like the Pre 3 are to serve as compliments to each other, then one would reason that it’d be best if they were sold in the same places (much like you’re pitched to buy chargers, cases, and protection plans at the carrier stores). This is all without even mentioning the added utility of a TouchPad with integrated cellular connectivity. Whether a speculative cellular TouchPad goes the route of 3G vs. 4G or CDMA vs. GSM is anybody’s guess. But seeing as HP was unwilling or unable to name any carrier partners for the Veer or Pre 3, we imagine their also still trying to work out partnerships for the TouchPad as well.
And then there’s the simple matter of your Palm Profile (only a matter of time before this is renamed). Apple iOS users have long enjoyed the benefits of their Apple ID syncing music, movies, apps, and other data across multiple devices, specifically on both iPhones and iPads. This hasn’t been an issue for the vast majority of webOS users, because most of us don’t have much use for two webOS phones. In fact, if you try to activate your Palm Profile on a new device, it automatically signs out of and wipes the older webOS device.
Whether this changes with the TouchPad is a huge unknown, though we have at least seen hints of potential profile sharing from HP: SVP Jon Rubinstein mentioned during the TouchPad introduction that all you would have to do is sign in with your profile on the TouchPad and all your Synergy data would automatically sync to the tablet. Synergy data, like your contacts and calendar info, is obviously a good thing to have and keep in sync. But what about apps or music or anything other than your basic PIM info? Yeah, we don’t know.