HP rushes TouchPad for March release

Hewlett-Packard is reportedly trying to disrupt the upcoming wave of Android 3.0 tablets by planning to launch its WebOS 3.0 TouchPad earlier than expected. HP’s website still says the 9.7-inch tablet should arrive this summer, but a DigiTimes report quoting sources from HP’s upstream component partners says the TouchPad could arrive as early as the end of March.

HP is gunning for Apple’s iPad directly, as the TouchPad features the same display size, format and resolution as the iPad. But Apple’s tablet won’t be the only competitor by the time the first WebOS tablet from HP comes to market. Motorola is planning to launch the Xoom this week, while the likes of Samsung and Toshiba have similar plans underway this spring. If the TouchPad launches late this summer, this means HP could lose potential customers to the iPad 2, as well as Android 3.0 tablets.

In this context, DigiTimes’ report that HP is set to start selling the TouchPad in April, with deliveries by the end of March, makes sense. HP is forecasting to sell around four to five million TouchPads by the end of 2011, according to the report, to work in harmony with the new range of Pre smartphones from HP, expected this summer too. Combined, HP hopes to sell 45 to 48 million notebooks and tablets.

Unlike Android tablets, HP seems to have adopted for the TouchPad a ‘less is more’ strategy. There are no dual cameras (just one at the front), no expandable storage or USB ports. Android Tablets however, went for a spec bonanza; as this comparison chart shows, the Touchpad is more similar in features with the iPad than with Android tablets. Slightly less beefy specs would allow HP to sell the TouchPad much closer to the price of the iPad, while Android tablets are charging an extra (Motorola’s Xoom tablet starts at $800). No official pricing has been announced for the TouchPad. Finally, what if HP’s strategy with the TouchPad doesn’t pay off? DigiTimes speculates “if HP fails to challenge Apple’s iPad, the company will have great difficulties to regain its pace in the tablet PC market in the future.” If HP manages to sell the TouchPad ahead of the impending wave of Android tablets at an iPad-like price, then the company stands a really good chance to reach its 5-million sales forecast for the tablet, especially if an WiFi-only TouchPad makes an appearance too this year.

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