Why HP Should Shelve Android Tablet Plans

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) has postponed plans for an Android tablet device that was expected to arrive in the fourth quarter of this year, says AllThingsD. This marks the second potential shift for HP's 2010 tablet plans as the HP Slate running Windows 7 that previewed center-stage at Microsoft's Consumer Electronics Show in January hasn't been mentioned much by HP since. While many in tech circles are waiting to see a flood of Android tablets to combat Apple's successful iPad, HP—and others—have at least two reasons to hold off on such a device.

As little as three months ago, HP had few operating system choices to power a tablet, and none offered the company complete control over both the hardware and software, a key strength that Apple leverages. HP could use Microsoft Windows 7, which as a desktop platform is overkill for a consumer tablet, or it could join the Android army and, like so many other hardware manufacturers, use Google's platform. But in April, HP proceeded to purchase Palm for $1.2 billion, and with it the efficient webOS platform.

The Apple-like control of hardware, software, and ecosystem HP gains from webOS isn't lost on the hardware company. After the Palm deal was announced, Brian Humphries, senior vice-president for corporate strategy and development at HP, noted this in a GigaOM interview:

"Ultimately, the Palm webOS and Apple are the two that can scale best over multiple devices, and we are going to compete with Apple … in the broader mobile category."

Don't Underestimate Google

While I don't completely agree with Humphries—it's a mistake to overlook Google in this market—it's evident that HP is staking its mobile future on the Palm deal. As a result, HP has no need to create an Android tablet in the near future. Instead, the company can devote resources to extending webOS beyond the small screen of a smartphone, and if it doesn't work out, Android can be used down the road.

Another key reason HP is right to forget an Android tablet this year applies to other manufacturers as well. Simply put: No Android tablet created right now is going to be a success because of Android itself. Even the latest release of Android, version 2.2 (aka Froyo) is too limited for a tablet device. For starters, the highest resolution supported is 854x480. That's great for a 4.3-inch device such as the Motorola Droid X that launches today, but not for any tablet in the 6-to-10-inch range.

Even worse, Google still limits Android market access to devices that meet certain hardware requirements, and most tablets currently don't meet those requirements. As the iPad has shown, a useful tablet can't just have a good browser or e-mail client. It needs a thriving developer community and access to a wide range of software applications. For an Android tablet to succeed—whether it's built by HP or someone else—Android still needs time to mature. The operating system is great for a smartphone, but that doesn't mean it's great for a tablet just yet.

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