Has HP given up on smartphones and tablets?

The new owner of Palm will reveal its WebOS plans in February -- not at the tablet-laden Consumer Electronics Show this week

Expect a parade of tablets at CES this week. You'll see several manufacturers introduce tablets based on Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" mobile OS, due this spring. Microsoft will allegedy announce -- or is that re-announce? -- Windows 7-based tablets (perhaps they'll actually ship this time). Apple, as usual, will shun the party. But this year there's a surprising no-show: Hewlett-Packard, which usually makes a big deal of CES, will be skipping out.

Instead, HP says it will announce the next step in WebOS -- the mobile OS it acquired when it bought Palm last spring -- on February 9. That suggests that HP won't be announcing any tablets or smartphones at CES. The scuttlebutt in Silicon Valley is that HP is very frustrated over its lack of a presence in mobile, yet it has nothing on offer as a mobile player.

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Skipping CES could be a sign of defeat at HP, that it's concluded it's too late to join the smartphone and tablet parties. Under that logic, HP's February announcement would be about new uses for a revamped WebOS -- as an appliance operating system for Internet-connected printers and cameras, for example, which HP hinted at not long after it bought Palm.

Or skipping CES could be a sign that HP wants to stand out from the crowd, as Apple does. With all the attention at CES on Android, new WebOS devices would get lost in the noise. Given that Android tablets won't ship until the Honeycomb OS is ready this spring, a February announcement will still come before customers actually have the ability to buy anything other than an iPad, the only real tablet on the market today. (Not only are Android tablets expected this spring, so too is Research in Motion's PlayBook 7-inch tablet.) Under this scenario, we could expect to see a WebOS tablet, new WebOS smartphones, and other WebOS devices all announced as part of a slew of HP mobile products.

My gut feeling is that HP wants to do the "slew of mobile products" thing with no one else competing for attention. However, we'll likely be hearing from Apple about either a Verizon iPhone or the iPad 2 in February, so any attention HP gains over WebOS will be short-lived. But with Apple making four or five product announcements spaced throughout the year, it's hard to keep the spotlight on someone else for very long.

Still, better to bask in a few days of glory in February than get lost at sea at CES.

This article, "Has HP given up on smartphones and tablets?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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