HP aims to bridge gap between desktops and tablets

HP's new all-in-one Touchsmart PCs could serve as application development platforms for tablets and help companies ease data flow among mobile devices

Hewlett-Packard is trying to bridge the gap between mobile devices such as tablets and desktops with its new desktop PCs, an effort that could help the company ease data flow and standardize the deployment of applications among devices.

The company on Monday introduced new all-in-one Touchsmart PCs that will primarily serve as desktops for end-users, but could also be used by developers creating touch applications that can be easily deployed to handheld devices such as tablets.

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"You will see a more cohesive relationship between pads and towers, all-in-ones specifically. This is where the whole industry will migrate to," said Xavier Lauwaert, director of product marketing of consumer desktops at Hewlett-Packard.

The move comes as HP prepares to launch new mobile devices based on the WebOS mobile platform, which it acquired from Palm in October. HP, the world's largest PC maker, is holding an event dedicated to WebOS this week.

The company's new all-in-ones will be "power hubs," where content can be created and served to mobile devices, said Kirk Godkin, product manager of business desktops and displays for the Americas region at HP. The all-in-ones are a good match with tablets as both share the touch usage models and have interactivity features.

All-in-ones have a larger screen and more processing power, which make them a good content creation device, whereas tablets are designed for content consumption. The similarities make all-in-ones a good platform to write touch and multimedia applications that can ultimately be served to tablets, Godkin said.

"Content consumption devices are going to continue to evolve and change. Content creation is basically going to become more interactive, whether it's gesture, touch ... or speech detect," Godkin said.

Developers will be able to work under a single platform where they can write heavy applications for PCs and create a lighter application for tablets, Godkin said. For example, developers will be able to create two versions of an application, like a presentation, for use on PCs and tablets.

"It's almost like a pocket office versus a full-blown office," Godkin said.

HP launched the TouchSmart 610 consumer and TouchSmart Elite 9300 business all-in-one PCs, which include 23-inch screens and can recline up to 60 degrees for a comfortable viewing experience. The TouchSmart 610 has tablet-like features with an e-reader and accessibility to an application center from where users can download games and books.

But HP's current all-in-ones are based on the Windows 7 OS, and mobile devices may contain different operating systems, a situation that may not change, Godkin said. For IT managers that is a nightmare, but multiple operating systems can be loaded on a single all-in-one through virtualized environments, and developers will be able to switch between operating systems without rebooting the system.

"Even in content creation devices like this, WebOS has roots," Godkin said.

In addition to the cloud, devices like all-in-ones or towers could become a spot to store data in homes where it can be touched, felt and heard, Godkin said. The company is heavily focused on establishing a strong local sync relationship for desktops to easily handshake with mobile devices.

HP has already been shifting resources to take advantage of the growing connected device market. In December HP jettisoned its MediaSmart server product line, which used the Windows Home Server OS, and moved that team into the WebOS fold. HP said the team was being moved to improve the multimedia and entertainment application experience in the WebOS ecosystem.

As WebOS gains traction in the market, HP will integrate more features across product lines that will break down the barriers between PCs and smartphones, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

There are two streams of thought on the role of tablets, King said. Longtime PC makers like HP view tablets as more of a complementary device that sits in a grey zone between smartphones and PCs, while Apple is promoting iPads as discrete devices that can fulfill most of the customers' needs.

HP's purchase of Palm puts it in a position to bridge the gap between its WebOS mobile devices and PCs, King said.

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