Earlier today Engadget unearthed an internal presentation from HP that shows what advantages HP's Slate have over Apple's iPad, and vice versa. The presentation is there to help HP employees understand what needs to be done and what they can write home about.
But this one slide is only a small part of a much larger big picture.
While the slide does reveal advantages that the Slate does have over the iPad in terms of hardware, it doesn't address several fundamental issues:
HP does not have a well built, well populated and well integrated applications repository and store.
HP does not have a multi-studio backed music and movies store.
HP does not have a widely populated books and magazines store.
Time and time again, Apple has demonstrated that having the best specs does not necessarily equate to having top notch mainstream acceptance and usability. This is where HP can start. Rather than having tunnel-vision focus on specifications alone, HP needs to hone in on user experience, and that begins squarely with the interface that will ultimately ship with the Slate.
HP is partly at the mercy of Microsoft. A version of Windows 7 will ship with the Slate, but what HP needs to do is create a well refined and customized touch-tuned interface that's intuitive to use. A slate/tablet device by today's standards, has to be usable by human fingers in a natural and easy way. If a company thinks thinks that by craming a desktop OS designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse into tablet, it is dead wrong. Thankfully however, HP is creating a custom TouchSmart interface that will ship with the Slate.
Key things HP needs to focus on are:
- Intuitive finger-based navigation.
- Unreliance on mouse, keyboard, stylus, although having options for these are good.
- Ensure that all aspects of the interface are cohesive, consistent and refined.
- Figure out a way to make applications take on the same consistency
End user experience are the final measuring stick on whether or not a device will be successful. But HP needs to work providing such an experience first. If HP can work deeply with Microsoft to refine the Slate's interface, things could look bright indeed.
Beyond Interfaces and Hardware
Competition beyond the interface however, is an even greater challenge for HP. Don't be fooled into thinking that the Slate and the iPad are on equal ground. What the Slate has to contend with is not simply another tablet, but an entire platform. Apple has immense strength here thanks to the entire "i-ecosystem." This is to say, the iTunes store, the App store, and now the iBooks store, are all part of the whole platform. One only needs to look at what the Apple has done to Amazon's once dominant Kindle ebook business to see that the Slate is in a battle not unlike David and Goliath. While its computer sales may pale in comparison, Apple's relentless grip on other business markets is massive. To underestimate these other areas, is a dangerous move.
HP needs to work closely with software developers and publishers. Since the Slate runs Windows 7, HP can use this to its advantage from a developer standpoint. It can work to convince and support the ocean of Windows developers to create custom version of existing apps and with new, well designed touch interfaces. HP also needs to see things through. Letting developers do whatever they want in terms of design and interface, is a bad idea. HP needs to keep developers along agreed-upon high quality standards. Only through this way, will the total user experience of the Slate be meaningful.
Outside from this, HP needs to also work with game publishers. For the most part, a tablet isn't a heavy duty productivity device. When you need to do serious work, you'll hit a laptop or a desktop. Therefore, game publishers are a key for HP. Everyone needs to work together to come out with attractive leisure and entertainment titles for the Slate. The mainstream market relates to this type of software far easier than things like office tools, FTP and file transfer utilities, remote control utilities and other things only savvy users would know.
Music, Movies and Books
HP is a big company. It has history. It has heritage. And most of all, it has clout. HP as a whole, wields tremendous power that most companies can only dream of having. In light of this, HP needs to start working with the entertainment industry to develop a viable and competitive platform to the iTunes store. While alternatives exist already, they're all small relative to iTunes' size. HP has the power to see the effort through thanks to its large pool of resources and that's what it needs to do. When it can show the entertainment industry an attractive user experience, HP can attract publishers to take the bite.
If HP isn't willing to create something of its own, partnering with one of the other larger alternatives, is a good place to start.
The same can be said for books. In fact, HP can consider a partnership with Amazon to make the Kindle store an official repository for the Slate. This would be an immediate advantage and one that millions of users are already familiar with. The fact that Amazon released a Kindle app for the iPad on the iPad's launch day says that Amazon is willing to be flexible in order to save its Kindle business.
Making It All Come Together
There are a lot of things HP needs to do to ensure the success of the Slate. It can't count on specifications alone. Tablets far more powerful than the iPad already exist in various forms. Yet they are tucked away into the niche-end of the market, doomed to be forgotten. The Slate can avoid the same fate if its mother company rises to the occasion to develop a cohesive and flourishing platform.
It's clear that HP sees the iPad as a very serious competitor to the Slate, otherwise it wouldn't create such internal presentations. But the presentation it created is blindsided by specs and doesn't address the platform issues. It's wonderful that the Slate has a built in webcam, a fast CPU, 1080p playback (only via video out since the Slate's resolution (1024x600) is actually less than the iPad), lots of memory, USB connectivity and user expandable storage. But they say history often repeats itself. HP cannot and should not count on power useres who know and understand technology well to see its product through to success. It must go after the larger mainstream base first. Out of all your friends and family, how many times have you had to fix computer problems for them? The mainstream base will launch the Slate into success and drive prices down, ultimately giving the power users what they want: a powerful, well made, well supported tablet that's priced right.
The Slate, like the iPad, is merely a window into a world created by content. Both sides need to be in harmony for everything to come together. I for one, hope HP can take its Slate to grand success. It can only be good for consumers.
HP on the other hand cannot count on hopes and wishes alone--it needs desire. For a wish for something may or may not come true. But desire won't go away until that something is true.