WebOS "looks very competitive," agrees Mykola Golovko, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor International, a global market research company. But on the downside, he notes that iPad 2 is lighter, thinner, has superior battery performance (though the TouchPad is comparable or better to many Android rivals), and a wealth of tablet-specific applications (more than 90,000 compared to the TouchPad's starting slate of about 300).
But having said that, Golovko is taking a long view of HP's WebOS ambitions. He estimates global tablet sales will be about 32 million units in 2011, and 180 million by 2015.
"So, the TouchPad is largely meant to demonstrate the ability of WebOS to compete with Android, iOS, and eventually Windows 8" on tablets, he says. "As such, to measure the success or failure of the TouchPad solely in terms of sales figures and market share would be shortsighted. A more accurate measure would be the share of WebOS as a platform in computers and smartphones in 2012-2013, be it on HP-branded devices or licensed to third-party manufacturers."
The TouchPad is intended as one element in an ecosystem of WebOS products, from mobile devices to networked printers to PCs, all slated to be updated with the firmware, says Grupreet Kaur, tablet market analyst with Gap Intelligence, a marketing intelligence firm.
In the future, the TouchPad will be a part of a WebOS ecosystem, as HP introduces the firmware to an array of its other products, from printers to PCs, enabling them to share information and tasks quickly and easily. "People are more familiar with iOS and Android," she says. "WebOS is new and unique. Getting the message across [to potential buyers] will be very important."
Despite the lukewarm reviews, getting the word out will hinge on both HP's marketing campaign and the in-store user experience at retailers. The hands-on consumer experience here will be critical, Kaur says, and HP must ensure demonstration units are available and functional, and that sales reps are well-trained on the product and its selling points.
Euromonitor's Golovko was expecting HP to sell the TouchPad mainly through telecom carriers, where the price could be lowered through traditional carrier subsidies. "Selling the TouchPad at its normal retail price will be a challenge for HP as consumers will expect the product to be priced lower than iPad 2," Golovko says.
HP is "absolutely" competitive with Apple in terms of retail distribution but this is "absolutely not" a competitive advantage for HP, says Greengarten, of Current Analysis. "Apple's problem is not that you can't buy an iPad at Walgreens," he says. "It's that Apple can't make them fast enough to stock Apple's stores, Best Buy, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww. Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed. Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.