HP revamps WebOS, unveils Pre 2

Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday took the wraps off its newly updated and rebranded HP WebOS mobile platform, which is expected to power future HP smart phone and tablet devices in 2011. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company also announced that it would deliver the second iteration of its Palm Pre smart phone to the Canadian market within a couple months.

With WebOS 2.0, HP said it has a mobile operating system that will power all of the handheld devices it plans to roll out over the next year. According to one company executive, updating the OS to ensure its scales well to different screen sizes presented a huge endeavor for HP.

“The WebOS 2.0 was a major undertaking,” said Stephane Maes, vice-president of product management of HP’s global Palm business unit. “It was more work to do than the original WebOS because of the huge amount of underpinning to make the platform more efficient and developer friendly.”

As for when HP might start delivering WebOS-based tablet PCs, Maes declined to comment directly, but agreed that it would be “sooner, rather than later.”

The biggest additions to the WebOS feature list include better multi-tasking capabilities and major enhancements to typing and search functionality.

On the multi-task side of things, HP added a new feature that groups related apps together while they are running in the background. Another new addition called “Just Type,” encourages users to type any search term they want on their phone, even before selecting an app to use.

For example, if you are typing a particular address into your device, a button for a map application would appear. Clicking the app would automatically send your search term to the app, hopefully saving you time.

HP is also opening up this functionality to developers so services like Wikipedia or IMDB can create plug-ins that work with the “Just Type” feature.

Other additions to WebOS 2.0 include Adobe Flash Player 10.1 Beta support, QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite, and VPN support, including IPsec and Cisco AnyConnect.

Along with the WebOS news, HP also lifted the curtain on the Palm Pre 2.

With the device, HP will add a few improvements to physical device, including a 1 gigahertz processor, 5-megapixel camera, a slide-out keyboard, and a glass touch screen. The company also highlighted the device’s new glass touch screen as a major contribution to an overall “sleeker” and “streamlined” device.

While no word was given on what carrier will offer the Palm Pre 2, HP confirmed that the device would be made available to Canada and the United States in “the coming months.” The smart phone will first become available to users in France this week.

Mark Tauschek, a lead analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said that while the new Palm Pre 2 feature list looked solid, the company has not offered anything really new or revolutionary with the release.

“The challenge in this space is that it’s really hard to keep up,” he said.

Tauschek added that WebOS-based smart phones might have missed their chance to flourish because the first generation was only limited to two phones — Palm Pre and Palm Pixi. He pointed to Google’s Android strategy, which is also now being followed by Microsoft with its Windows Phone 7 release, as the wiser play.

“They’ve been successful because of the choice and selection of the devices,” Tauschek said.

The bigger news for Tauschek is how HP will be able to take advantage of WebOS 2.0 on the tablet form factor, which he added, provides the company with its biggest opportunity of success among both consumers and the enterprise space.

“I would expect they’re going to announce a WebOS tablet really soon,” he said.

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