HP quashes rumors of Slate demise

The computer maker says the tablet is still under consideration

Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday quashed rumors of HP Slate's demise, saying the tablet with the Windows 7 OS may still be sold to customers.

"We are in customer evaluations now and will make a determination soon on the next steps," said HP spokeswoman Marlene Somsak in an e-mail.

HP in January announced plans to offer HP Slate with Microsoft's Windows 7 OS, and a prototype was displayed during Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show that month. HP then announced in April that it was buying Palm for US$1.2 billion and said it would put Palm's WebOS mobile OS on a range of devices including tablets. That fueled speculation about HP scuttling its Slate plans, as power-hungry Windows 7 is not ideal for handheld tablet devices.

"We hadn't anticipated the Palm acquisition when we first shared our plans for that product," Somsak said.

HP has openly said it wants to put WebOS in tablets, but Somsak declined comment on the company's plans.

Events from earlier this week point to HP possibly launching Windows and WebOS tablets.

The company listed the HP Slate 500 on its website, a hint that the product is still alive.

According to product details, the Slate includes an 8.9-inch touchscreen and runs on Windows 7 Premium. It has two cameras -- video and still -- and accepts pen and touch input. It is listed as Energy Star-qualified, and the Energy Star website says the Slate has a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of memory.

HP's plans to launch a WebOS tablet also may have taken a step forward with the company's application to trademark the term Palmpad with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The trademark is related to goods and services for a range of hardware including "handheld and mobile computers, PDAs, electronic notepads, mobile digital electronic devices," according to the USPTO document. The Palmpad trademark filing was first reported by Engadget.

HP's Somsak declined to comment on the Palmpad trademark filing.

HP has a long history of partnering with Microsoft and offers the Windows Mobile operating system on its iPaq smartphones for consumers and businesses. The company also offers Windows 7 on low-cost netbooks.

If released, it's a toss-up whether the HP Slate would be targeted at consumers or enterprises, said John Spooner, an analyst at Technology Business Research.

"Based on hardware specifications, it could go either way," Spooner said, adding that he couldn't predict if a Slate tablet will be released.

Having Windows and pen-input capabilities lends the Slate well to corporate customers, but that doesn't mean consumers wouldn't purchase the device, Spooner said.

The target audience will also largely depend on pricing, Spooner said. No one will buy a device that's over US$1,000, and if it does come to market, it has to be priced closer to Apple's iPad tablet models.

HP's Slate 500 is closer in hardware specifications to Cisco's Cius business tablet, which was launched late last month. Cius has a 7-inch touchscreen, uses an Intel Atom processor and is designed to conduct multiparty videoconferencing with a front-facing camera and a rear-facing camera. The Slate 500 may be based on an Atom x86 processor with its capability to run Windows 7. The Slate's multiple cameras are designed for "web conferencing," according to HP's website.

Tablets could find a use in the enterprise, Spooner said. Beyond videoconferencing, they could be used on the road instead of laptops to take notes or write e-mails. They could also be used by field workers for tasks like recording inventory.

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