HP interrupts Apple tablet fervor with Slate preview

Just hours before Apple Inc. is expected to unveil its highly anticipated tablet device, HP Co. gave a sneak preview of its own Slate device, promising both an “affordable” price tag and a 2010 release date.


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The preview, which was posted to YouTube on Monday, features CTO Phil McKinney hyping the multi-touch, Windows 7-powered device and assuring potential consumers that it is “not a prototype or a concept.” He said HP is committed to getting the Slate into the hands of consumers later this year and at a low price point.


“We could have built the device two years ago, but it would have been $1,500,” McKinney said.


He added that the availability of low-power processors, the Windows 7 OS, and better touch-aware technology now mean that HP will be able to deliver a mainstream, affordable product, as opposed to a niche offering.


The Slate device will fit into a category of content consumption devices that are bigger than a smart phone, but smaller than a netbook or laptop, McKinney said. The ultimate goal will be to offer a “consolidated device” that users look to for all their rich media viewing needs, including movies, Web sites, and audio files.


HP’s Slate was first announced earlier this month at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.


But despite the frenzy from consumers over all of these tablet devices, at least one industry analyst said potential tablet buyers still need to figure out what they actually want the device to do.


“The big questions here for business use — and, indeed for consumers as well — is, ‘What do I use it for and is it worth the money for its capabilities?’” said Gordon Haff, a principal analyst with Nashua, N.H..-based Illuminata Inc.


He added that tablet devices can already be found in some specific business settings, such as the health-care sector, which could entice such companies to migrate to these newer devices.


“Outside of those specific scenarios though, it’s hard to see any tablet becoming a mainstream business device that companies buy for their employees in the near future,” said Haff.


He said that while some businesses bought employees PDAs in the past, IT departments would need a pretty compelling business reason to start wholesale purchasing of a relatively new device for their employees, even at an affordable price point.


“More likely, I think that they’re devices that employees buy on their own and may connect to business networks,” Haff added. “That’s the overall direction for general purpose mobile devices, anyway.”


Mark Tauschek, a lead analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., agreed, but said that HP will probably have the early leg up in selling the tablet to enterprises because it’s offering a Windows-based device.


“HP supplies desktops, servers, network infrastructure and other technology to many customers,” he said. It would make sense for them to promote the Slate through these channels and promote them to doctors, nurses, enterprise road warriors and point-of-sale workers, Tauschek added.


But just as the Apple iPhone managed to break into countless Fortune 500 companies through demand from employees and senior executives, Tauschek said, this early advantage will not hold for very long.

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