WebOS 3.0: Fashionably late, but dressed to kill

On February 9th, 2011 Hewlett-Packard Development Co LP unveiled its line-up of webOS 3.0 tablets and webOS 2.2 smartphones. Euromonitor International gauges the company’s chances of success in these categories in 2011 and 2012.

The line-up

At the unveiling, webOS 3.0 was introduced in the form of the HP TouchPad, expected to be released in the summer of 2011, with a promise of laptop and desktop variations to come later on in the year. The HP Veer and Pre3 smartphones, also featured in the event, will be running on webOS 2.2, and are expected to be released on the market in the first half of 2011.

The tablet

The TouchPad addresses two of the three most pressing questions facing the tablet market at the dawn of 2011. It does not run on Android, solving the problem of product differentiation that the array of Android devices is facing, and the TouchPad’s computing hardware specifications are industry-leading, at the time of the launch, by any existing or upcoming major competitors.

Webos3.0

The question that remains unanswered is distribution, which will ultimately dictate pricing and the products’ ultimate success. The company has stated that the product will be available in 3G and 4G variants meaning that distribution through telecoms will likely be the primary channel similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The TouchPad is launching much later than the Galaxy Tab, giving HP time to analyse Samsung’s pricing strategy and adjust accordingly. This is likely to mean that the TouchPad will cost less than the Galaxy Tab at launch. However, the TouchPad will be entering a market where it will have to compete with the iPad’s successor, which is expected to be launched in the spring of 2011, as well as a wide range of Android-based devices hoping to capitalise on the platform’s success in 2010 and 2011.

The phones

The webOS 2.2 strategy in smartphones is bipolar. The HP Veer is a compact smartphone designed for light users, a product that is likely to be competitively priced to get the webOS platform to the maximum number of consumers, thereby encouraging third-party applications and content generation for the platform. The Pre3 is at the opposite end of the spectrum with a Qualcomm MSM 8×55 1.4GHz CPU, and 512MB of RAM. With these hardware specifications and webOS’s focus on multitasking, this phone poses a significant challenge to the array of Android and iOS devices on the market today. However, the Veer and Pre3 are facing an uphill battle for market share as both Android and iOS have built up vast biospheres of software and services around their operating systems. Adding to entry difficulties will be efforts of Research in Motion Ltd, Microsoft Corp, and Nokia Group to reclaim share lost since 2008.

The convergence

In today’s mobile computing world, hardware alone will not win over the consumer. Instead, the operating system and convergence with other devices will be key. The market consensus currently sees the smartphone as a device for computing on-the-go while the tablet is still a portable computer used in static situations such as coffee shops, or airport waiting areas. This means that consumers want an operating environment which allows them to access the same content on both types of devices and seamlessly switch between the two depending on the usage scenario. The HP TouchPad and the smartphones are designed as complementary products as the TouchPad can wirelessly answer calls made to webOS smartphones (webOS 2.2 or higher) and share information with the smartphones by simply touching them together.

The key advantage of Android remains its expanding presence on set-top boxes and internet enabled TVs in addition to computers and smartphones, making it better suited for content convergence between in-home and portable devices. Should this prove to be the case in 2011 and 2012, webOS devices could be relinquished to a niche product.