Earlier today, the new HP TouchPad was unveiled. For some, their first reaction was to compare and contrast the product against the competitive lineup. But for many people, their first question isn't so much about which tablet is best for them -- it's about the whole idea of a tablet.
The tablet form factor isn't as new as some might think. They've been around for at least a decade, although they've only gained popularity in the last year or so. What's the appeal? In a way, the tablet form factor is a kind of "missing link" between smartphones and notebook computers. Like smartphones, they're generally lightweight, portable, have long battery lives, and typically make it easy to add a broad range of apps.
Like notebooks, tablets offer a lot more screen real estate than a smartphone. Now, on some tablets, that real estate isn't used for much more than blowing up your smartphone app to fill the screen. But webOS takes that extra real estate and really puts it to use. For starters, the just-announced webOS-powered TouchPad boasts the same multitasking capabilities that phones like the Pre and Pixi offer. (And you wouldn't ever think of using a notebook that didn't let you keep multiple applications open, would you? Who would want to close their email app just to check something on their calendar?) With webOS, you can keep all your apps open in separate cards that you can easily move around the screen. And on TouchPad, you have plenty of room to see what's going on in different cards simultaneously.
Another great feature of webOS that really shines on a tablet is the way it handles notifications. When you've got new email messages, appointments, tweets, phone calls, voicemails, or other real-time alerts, webOS lets you know with an icon, preview, or some other visible (but unobtrusive) indicator. With all the screen real estate available on a tablet, individual apps have much more flexibility to let these notifications offer just enough (but not too much) information to keep you updated without distracting you.
Until you've used a tablet like TouchPad, you still might be skeptical. Why not just carry a netbook around (and always have a physical keyboard handy)? And for some -- especially those who are doing data entry all day long -- that may be the best fit. But once you've experienced a tablet hands on, you'll begin to appreciate a more subtle aspect of the tablet form factor: It's more social than a netbook. If you're meeting with a customer, for example, and want to pull up a web page to help you illustrate a point, you may feel somewhat awkward whipping out your netbook and typing away. And it can be difficult for two people to have a conversation about something on a phone-sized screen. But sharing a web page (or referencing an email, or comparing calendars, or price-shopping for a part, or browsing through a photo gallery) on a tablet is a surprisingly natural and comfortable experience in both business and personal settings.
Is a tablet ideal for every situation? Probably not -- sometimes you need a laptop's keyboard, or a desktop's large display, or the pocketability of a smartphone. And that's where a powerful new feature of webOS comes in. It's called touch-to-share, and it's pretty self-explanatory. You simply tap an enabled webOS device to TouchPad to share web addresses. For more details about touch-to-share, see the “better together” on the TouchPad web page.
As with any new form factor, a hands-on test-drive is the best way to get a sense of how it can fit into your life. (I know one person who was so anxious to make a tablet fit into his life – literally – that he had the inside pockets of his sportcoats altered, which probably cost him more than the tablet itself.) To make sure you hear when the HP TouchPad webOS tablet will be available for you to check it out, follow @palm on Twitter.