HP on webOS: It’s all about the ecosystem

HP TouchPadHaving a tablet isn’t HP’s goal in launching the TouchPad.

To be sure, HP will be looking to sell tablets, and a lot of them at that. But for the company, the bigger play may well be how those tablets integrate with existing customers – both corporate and consumers – other devices, and how well developed the app and game ecosystem develops, both here in Canada and internationally, that determines the success of the webOS tablet in the marketplace.

First of all, a little background. ChannelBuzz.ca has been digging around since last week’s announcement of the HP TouchPad, its webOS-powered tablet computer. Does HP see it as a consumer device, or a business device too? Will HP use its broad connections to IT solution providers as a differentiator in the heating market for tablets in the business market?

So far, the details are fleeting. HP’s still months away from bringing the TouchPad to market in Canada or anywhere else for that matter, and it doesn’t have its channel plans entirely figured out as of yet – or at least it’s not ready to talk about them yet.

One thing is for sure – while Apple initially shrugged its shoulders at the business implications of the iPad when it launched last year (a decision it has taken some steps, but perhaps not enough, to amend), TouchPad will arrive in the market as both a business and consumer device.

“This is for work and for fun,” said Sherief Ibrahim, category manager for consumer notebooks at HP Canada. “We’re showing off more of the consumer-centric stuff, but at the heart of the OS, there’s a lot of features that will make sense in a business environment.”

Some of those features include QuickOffice software for managing business documents, as well as support for popular Web/cloud services like Dropbox and Google out of the box, as well as multitasking and printing baked into the device.

But the real magic, Ibrahim said, will come as HP finds ways to connect TouchPad to a variety of other devices. Today, the company is previewing the way TouchPad will work with its webOS-based smartphones. But that’s just the beginning of it, as Ibrahim said HP is working to make TouchPad work with a variety of devices, including its PCs and printers. “We’ve got one of the broadest portfolios in all the world of IT,” he said.”

Another aspect of the ecosystem that’s key to HP’s play is the developer one. Ibrahim said as much as the device is important, having the apps and games that consumers want is all the more important. The company, he said, is already reaching out to Canadian developers of popular mobile apps to discuss getting their apps up and running on TouchPad. Doing so is a relatively easy process, Ibrahim said, because the operating system is based around Web technologies.

“We need to make sure there’s a great experience for Canadians, and we’re looking at who we can work with locally to make sure that experience is there,” Ibrahim said.

Ultimately, while there’s still a big “watch this space” sign up for partners, and lots of questions to be answered before TouchPad gets into customers’ hands this summer, the company is – to borrow from its tagline for the TouchPad launch last week – thinking beyond simply having a device, and HP’s partners will likely have a role to play in building and maintaining that ecosystem and environment, regardless of what the company’s channel strategy is for the hardware.

“It’s not just the tablet – it’s about the OS itself and getting it across the product ecosystem. Once it gets momentum going, it’s going to be something pretty amazing,” Ibrahim said. “The TouchPad is definitely going to be the hero for us this year, but this is really about a fundamental shift in how we are going to do things.”