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The Promise of the HP TouchPad

Making a tablet isn't easy. Just ask Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and Toshiba. While you're at it, ask HP. Their new TouchPad shows some promise and fights gamely, but it just can't stand up to the iPad. I've been using one for almost two weeks, and a few things are clear:

The hardware is good but the design and build quality don't meet the standard set by the original iPad, much less the iPad 2. The webOS operating system is beautiful and clever, but slow. The web browser is solid most of the time, but occasionally it produces weird text rendering glitches at the edges of a page. The TouchPad plays Flash, but you can't scrub video in YouTube, and some Flash sites bring the tablet to its knees.

There is no easy integrated way to purchase, download, and manage music and movies, much less sync them with other devices. There is a Kindle app for books, but it's only a placeholder – there is no actual functional Kindle app ready for the TouchPad yet. There are plenty of apps for the TouchPad, but most of them are scaled-up versions of apps designed for the Pre phone, and unlike the App Store there is no profusion of webOS apps for every imaginable niche.

All of the above notwithstanding, HP could still turn the TouchPad into a viable competitor. WebOS shows all kinds of promise. Wireless charging, touching one device to another to transfer data, system-level Dropbox integration, integrated social contact management, and a clever notification system are all quite nice.

HP could take the lead in creating a world where devices automagically share data. Notes made in a handset are instantly transfered to a project file on a tablet. Printer configuration disappears. I can slide the photo I'm editing from my touchscreen to yours so you can drop it into your project. HP can make all of these things happen.

But first HP has to commit to releasing no product before it is ready. Whether the company positions the TouchPad against the iPad or not, purchasers will compare the two. Hardware has to be great, not just good. Software lag has to be exorcised. A half-second delay on a touchscreen device just doesn't cut it. There need not be hundreds of thousands of third-party apps, but there have to be some killer apps that are unique to the TouchPad. "Me too" releases of the latest Angry Birds games won't cut it.

Music, movies, and books are primary to a tablet. It's no secret that iTunes has grown bloated. HP could create a more streamlined, cleaner approach that seamlessly ties into Amazon and other services, allowing consumers to use one gatetway to an array of retailers.

HP has to present a compelling case to developers, improve hardware quality, speed up webOS performance, and create a seamless media platform. That's a tall order, but making a tablet isn't easy.

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