FCC filing offers bit of detail on mystery HP device

Information about HP's eStation Zeen filing raises more questions about the company's plans

Details about a new portable device from Hewlett-Packard emerged on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Web site on Thursday, intensifying speculation about HP's plans for tablets and mobile devices.

The product, called the eStation Zeen, is described as a portable device with 802.11b/g/n wireless networking capabilities, according to an FCC filing on August 5. Further information on the device was not revealed due to a confidentiality agreement.

The documents were discovered by Engadget, which also said it had received tips that the device may be a printer-friendly e-reader or tablet based on Google's Android OS.

The company has listed eStation all-in-one printers on its Web site, though they aren't officially available yet.

The FCC document doesn't say much, but the device could be a tablet-like product with strong printer integration, analysts said.

HP has been putting a lot of effort into developing tablet-like devices, and may be looking to bring mobile devices and printers together, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. Printing from handheld devices could be difficult, and HP printers have traditionally been more aligned to PCs, he said.

By integrating the printer, HP could offer a tablet with stronger printing capabilities than Apple's iPad. That could make it easier to print pages from e-books, for example, King said.

The device could be tied to HP's plans to incorporate printing-by-e-mail capabilities, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies. The company wants to give each printer its own e-mail address, and a document would be printed when sent to a printer's e-mail address. That capability should remove the need of drivers for printers, and make it easier for mobile devices to print documents.

The Zeen may also be one of the first portable devices based on WebOS, a mobile OS that HP acquired when it bought Palm earlier this year for US$1.2 billion, Kay said.

HP has said it wants to make tablets, printers and other Web-connected devices based on the WebOS. The company has already applied to trademark the term PalmPad, which could be used for a tablet based on WebOS.

It is also possible that the device will be based on the Android OS, which already has traction in the tablet space, King said. HP offers the Android OS in a low-cost Compaq AirLife laptop, which is sold only in certain countries in Europe.

HP has also said it wants to put Windows 7 on enterprise tablets.

Zeen's surprise entry adds another layer of mystery to HP's plans of selling tablets with multiple operating systems, analysts said. It might take some effort to explain differences between the devices to customers.

"You have to be able to explain to customers the subtle or specific benefits of the products. That's a process and exercise that HP is used to as it supports Windows and Linux on the desktops and multiple operating systems in the server world," King said.

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