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By Dan Rowinski

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HP brings Palm back from the brink with TouchPad

Hewlett-Packard is jumping into the raging tablet market and reviving Palm in the process.

We all remember Palm, right?

Before there were BlackBerrys, before the resurgence of Apple with the iPod and iMac, before tablets became viable computing solutions, there was the Palm Pilot. Or, more specifically, the Palm Connected Organizer.

It was the epitome of the personal digital assistant, so much so that it came to stand for any PDA, whether it was made by Palm or not. Anybody who thought they were anybody had a Palm Pilot.

The latter half of the last decade was not kind to Palm. BlackBerry started stealing its thunder early in the 2000s when the device that would become known as a smart phone could do everything that a Palm could do and also check corporate e-mail and make phone calls.

Palm saw the writing on the wall and developed webOS, its reaction to BlackBerry and one of the first to employ the WebKit Open Source Project, which is the coding behind Apple's Safari browser for Mac OS X and the technology that wowed the world when the original iPhone came out. In a purely technological and software kind way, Palm and webOS were on par with Apple and way ahead of Google’s Android in the smart phone operating system race.

Palm had a problem, though. WebOS was slick and intuitive, but it had lost mind share in the market. Phone series such as the Treo and, more recently, the Pre fizzled out against the iPhone and Android phones. By 2008, Palm was hemorrhaging money and looking for a company to buy it.

Along came HP, which scooped Palm up in 2009 for $1.2 billion in what many pundits saw as more of a patent grab. A lot of the talent that had created webOS fled to places such as Apple and Google, and there were rumors that there would never be another Palm device, ever.

Until today.

At an unveiling event in San Francisco, HP brought webOS and Palm back with a vengeance, announcing a new tablet and a variety of smart phones running webOS 3.0. That is a new version of the operating system, according to tech blog Engadget.

The TouchPad tablet will run a dual-core ARM-based 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor by Qualcomm with a multitouch capacitive 9.7-inch panel screen. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, it is a little heavier than some tablets, but it looks as though Palm has done some good work with multitasking capabilities, enterprise incorporation and Flash support.

The initial reviews from the blogs and reactions from pundits have been good so far, and HP has the clout to deliver a flood of webOS devices to the market if the new products can find a foothold. The problem now is the lack of an application culture and storefront, as Apple has with iTunes, Google with the Android Market and Research in Motion with BlackBerry App World. HP is forming partnerships with content providers, such as Amazon, Sports Illustrated and DreamWorks, because it knows government and enterprise users will be looking for functionality and thorough app environments.

In addition to the TouchPad, HP announced a couple of smart phones, notably the HP Pre3 and the Veer. The Veer reportedly is the size of a credit card and functions as a full smart phone, probably marketed toward young people. The Pre3 will be seen as a companion device to the TouchPad and will be a fully functional smart phone. That is much the same tack RIM is taking for its phones — as companions to its PlayBook tablet through integration with the new BlackBerry Bridge application that syncs data between the devices and allows it to be tethered as a hot spot.

It does not look as though the TouchPad will have tethering capabilities with Palm phones yet, but the syncing between devices appears to take the BlackBerry Bridge one step further with the ability to share anything — video, Web pages, e-mail messages, contacts  — between the devices with a one-button push feature called Touch2Share.

HP and webOS are well behind in application development against iOS and Android, but with the right apps added to the TouchPad, it likely has the ability to compete with the iPad and the upcoming Android-based Motorola Xoom.

Posted by Dan Rowinski on Feb 10, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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