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Is The TouchPad An iPad Or Xoom Competitor?

HP TouchPad Review: A Tablet For Productivity?
Tablet Pricing
16 GB
32 GB
64 GB
iPad 2 (Wi-Fi)
iPad 2 (AT&T 3G)
iPad 2 (Verizon 3G)
Xoom (Wi-Fi)
Iconia Tab A500 (Wi-Fi)
TouchPad (Wi-Fi)

HP offers the TouchPad at a slightly lower price compared to its competition. However, hardware acquisition isn't the only price you're bound to pay. A tablet purchase, as with the adoption of a personal computer, constitutes the acceptance of a specific platform. But no tablet can truly succeed without a healthy base of developers creating new apps. Even if its hardware wasn't as sexy as it's perceived to be, Apple would still enjoy a tremendous advantage by virtue of the ISVs publishing to its App Store. Android still has some catching up to do in that regard. And it's a much more palpable problem for the TouchPad. Variety in the App Catalog is particularly thin.

In the end, HP's battle has nothing to do with the hardware. It has to do with software and attracting more developers. Even if it takes four times as long to develop an app in iOS than webOS, the development community is going to follow the trail of dollars. According to a recent IHS iSuppli survey, 79.2% of tablet owners confirmed owning either an iPad or iPad 2, and 50% of those shopping for a new tablet said they would by an iPad 2. That's what will motivate developers more than anything.

The TouchPad and its webOS represent a third contingent of business-oriented users willing to pay for third-party software in order to improve their mobile computing experience. But HP is in a tough spot. It has to face down Apple and Google, both more established in this field.

HP mitigates its disadvantage somewhat by touting a more professional billing than what iOS or Android offer. And if you're most interested in productivity, the TouchPad is indeed a compelling contender. There are so many things that HP did right here. The interface is clean and Synergy is unbelievably useful. But some critical features, like document editing, are missing even with the latest 3.0.2 update. Quickoffice is supposedly working on this, and it is supposed to be a free upgrade, but we don't know when it'll become available.

Thus, professionals shopping for a productivity-oriented tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio have two choices:

  1. HP's TouchPad, clearly intended for business use with a few missing features and a small selection of entertainment apps. Despite leaning on a purportedly more performance-oriented Snapdragon SoC, our benchmarks demonstrates less aggressive performance.
  2. Apple's iPad 2, clearly intended for consumption, but relatively well-suited for productivity. It's thin, lightweight, and a solid performer.

Despite impressive extras like Synergy, business-specific features probably won't be what ultimately save the TouchPad. It turns out that professionals aren't all that different from regular consumers in what they're able to do with the tablet form-factor. Both groups need ample choice when it comes to the software able to address their needs. The plethora of apps in Apple's App Store is perhaps the iPad's most significant selling point, and it could certainly be enough for businesses to consider passing on the excellent work behind Synergy. We're not asking for hundreds of thousands of apps here. But HP should be going to market with a few hundred solid choices.

Given the state of HP's infrastructure, HP's asking price is high. The tablet space is very competitive, and the Android-based tablets are already struggling to battle it out amongst themselves. There's very little wiggle room for the TouchPad to coexist, which is why execution is critical. In the near-term, HP needs a lower price and more complete software foundation. After all, a business tablet without the ability to edit documents feels lacking.

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