PC Makers Prepare To Challenge iPad

Now that Apple has launched its slate-based iPad computer, it remains to be seen whether the product will help or hurt the prospects of PC-based alternatives with a similar form factor.

On the eve of Apple's iPad launch last week, Hewlett-Packard released a video touting its own forthcoming slate-based PC, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showcased in his keynote address at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Both the iPad (which won't ship for another two months) and HP's slate are thin devices with 10-inch touchscreen displays.

In the HP video, CTO Phil McKinney said his company has spent years working on its slate device, but the goal was to release something that would have mass-market appeal. McKinney argued that HP could have unveiled such a device earlier, but it would have cost upwards of $1,500.

"Our target was to get this down to be a mainstream price point, mainstream product, not a niche offering, and really be something that transforms how people enjoy their content," McKinney said.

HP's offering and Apple's iPad boast similar form factors and target applications, providing devices that let users access Web content, games, video, music, books, photos, magazines and newspapers, as well as personal productivity applications. However, there is less known about HP's entrée than Apple's. Though it will be based on Windows 7 and incorporate the touch-based features of Microsoft's new OS, HP still hasn't disclosed what kind of processor will power its device, whether it will use flash storage like the iPad or how much it will cost. And HP is saying only that it will be available some time this year.

"PC makers are understandably hedging their bets as people decide that tablets are a form factor they want," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "It's amazing that Apple has reawakened this market again because tablets have been around for a long time but they've never taken off. They occupy a weird middle ground between a smartphone and a regular laptop, and in most cases, a touchscreen doesn't make sense."

Among the most notable criticisms of the iPad is that it will not have a camera, support for Adobe Flash or multitasking capabilities. But at least for now, there is pent-up demand among Web developers to bring their apps to the iPad. According to 554 respondents to a survey by Appcelerator, which offers a platform for rapidly developing native applications for mobile and desktop apps in JavaScript, HTML and CSS, 90 percent of developers intend to develop an app for the iPad within the next calendar year. Furthermore, the iPad ranks third behind only the iPhone and the Android in platforms the respondents find very interesting.

"This product is having crossover appeal between mobile and desktop developers," said Scott Schwarzhoff, Appcelerator's vice president of marketing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from Apple last week was the iPad's entry-level price of $495, only slightly higher than many netbooks today. Though it remains to be seen whether Apple has set the "mainstream" price point referenced by HP's McKinney, it could put pressure on PC-based vendors to match with similar pricing. Consider Lenovo's forthcoming IdeaPad U1 with a $1,000 price tag or Fujitsu's LifeBook 4410, a Windows 7-based device launched in October 2009, with a starting price of $1,200.

But analysts were quick to warn against making such comparisons because all three devices have substantially different capabilities. Forrester analyst James McQuivey described the iPad in his blog as simply a "nice upgrade" to the iPod Touch, adding, "My most withering response is this: the iPad is priced lower than expected, because it is less revolutionary than expected."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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