HP's 'Think Beyond' Palm Event: What to Expect

Get ready for new Palm WebOS toys Wednesday. Hewlett-Packard is finally taking the wraps off its long-awaited WebOS reboot since acquiring the embattled PDA pioneer, Palm, in April.

Leading up to a press event held by HP's Palm division at 1 p.m. ET today, anticipation grows as to what devices will be unveiled and how Palm's next-gen WebOS 2.0 mobile operating system will differ from what Apple and Google's Android devices currently offer.

There is little doubt Palm will show a WebOS tablet. But how many? Will there be a new phone or netbook? What about services? Will we hear more about "cloud-oriented" services built into the OS as hinted by HP brass?

So far all we know about the WebOS refresh is rumors, a few statements by company executives, and a short mysterious teaser video. Regardless, expectations for today include tablets, smartphones, a discussion of WebOS 2.0, and hopefully a few surprises.

Here's a Palm WebOS primer to get you ready for the press event, and don't forget to check in with PCWorld's live blog coverage of the event starting at 1 p.m. Eastern.

PalmPad(s)

Let there be no doubt, HP will be talking about tablets on Wednesday. HP has long hinted it would develop a WebOS one-panel slate, and then confirmed in August it was developing a WebOS tablet dubbed the PalmPad. "We're totally focused on the tablet market. We're totally focused on enabling it with WebOS," said Todd Bradley, executive vice president for HP's Personal Systems Group, during an interview on CNBC in January.

But the big question is whether we will see two tablets running WebOS or just one.

In January, Engadget obtained purported internal HP documents showing off a 7-inch WebOS tablet codenamed Opal and a 9-inch device codenamed Topaz. Both tablets are rumored to have a 1.2Ghz processor, front-facing camera, micro USB port and three built-in speakers. The tablets are rumored to be hitting the market later this year, and there may be Wi-Fi only versions of the tablets similar to Apple's strategy with the iPad. There are also rumors that new WebOS tablets would be charge via Palm's Touchstone wireless charging docks.

Not to be outdone by the gadget blog, HP sent out a note about its February 9 event shortly after the leak saying, "Think you saw the latest on Engadget? Think Again." Did Engadget get it wrong or does HP have a big surprise up its sleeve for Wednesday?

Smartphones

The Palm Pre and the Palm Pixi are getting pretty long in the tooth despite having the term "Plus" appended to their names in mid-2010. In both cases, Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus, the new devices received minor hardware tweaks (Wi-Fi connectivity for the Pixi plus) and updated WebOS software.

HP was showing off a new Palm Pre 2 and WebOS 2.0 back in October, but has yet to launch the device in the U.S. The Pre 2 was largely met with indifference from critics since it wasn't much of a significant upgrade from the original Palm Pre. The Pre 2 is faster with a 1 GHz processor, has a 5 mega-pixel camera instead of 3MP, 16GB onboard storage with no SD option, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and the same 3.1-inch 320-by-480 screen as the original Pre.

Will HP have something else to offer on Wednesday or will the computer maker continue to tie its smartphone fortunes to the yawn-inducing Palm Pre 2?

WebOS 2.0

HP's event on Wednesday isn't just about new products, but a discussion about the future of WebOS. I wouldn't be surprised if that translates into, "nothing new for WebOS software so we'll just talk about how great it is." Expect to see HP discuss WebOS 2.0 and its features such as multitasking; HP Synergy for merging your multiple online accounts into your phone's contacts, calendars and messaging apps; and Just Type, a feature that lets you write an e-mail, text, search query or status update from one place.

Can WebOS Win?

The big question hanging over HP's WebOS event Wednesday is whether it has what it takes to compete against the smartphone and tablet frontrunners, Google's Android and Apple's iOS. Microsoft is having a hard time getting Windows Phone 7 off the ground. The company recently said it shipped 2 million WinPho 7 devices last quarter, but that's nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of Android and iOS devices being activated every day. Nokia recently admitted it was losing ground to Android and iOS, and Research In Motion's Blackberry devices aren't expected to win back lost ground to iOS and Android any time soon.

Will WebOS fare any better? Is there room for another mobile OS platform or will the herd start to thin out by the end of 2011?

The key to WebOS' future prospects will be third-party apps. Users want to know that if they move to a new platform they can get the coolest, most fun apps possible. WebOS is admittedly a little bit ahead of the game with popular apps such as Angry Birds (something Microsoft doesn't have, yet), Facebook, Evernote, The New York Times, Pandora, Gowalla and Foursquare.

But the WebOS app ecosystem doesn't come close to having the hundreds of thousands of apps that Android and iOS do. HP needs to convince developers that writing apps for the WebOS platform will be worth their while. But that's a tough call when there's already Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry. Can the world sustain another mobile platform? We should have a better idea of WebOS' future prospects after HP's press event Wednesday starting at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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