Tablets

The second coming of HP's Slate line: Why boring may be just what HP needs

Another Windows tablet may be not get pulses racing - but at least it's not the TouchPad...

HP is launching another Windows-based tablet - a sign it's getting back to the things it does best, says silicon.com's Natasha Lomas.

Anyone with even half an eye on the tech industry can't fail to have noticed HP's strategy has been zigzagging in all directions in recent months - most obviously when the company said it was considering spinning off its PC division only to about-face and decide to embrace PC-making once again after new CEO Meg Whitman took the reins.

Now, HP has announced it's getting back into tablets.

The company that created the mayfly of tablets - the TouchPad - only to kill it off months later has decided to launch a new tablet device: the HP Slate 2 Tablet PC.

HP Slate 2

HP Slate 2 Tablet PC: It's no TouchPadImage: HP

The prosaically named Slate 2 is the follow-up to the original HP Slate, launched last year. Like the original Slate but unlike its webOS-based TouchPad, the Slate 2 runs Windows 7.

While consumers will scratch their heads at the sight of a company that killed off its relatively sexy iPad-esque tablet only to replace it with a dull but worthy Windows slate, there is method in HP's madness.

The Slate 2 is no iPad killer - which is exactly why it's survived HP's strategy shifts.

Rather than attempting to position itself as an Apple rival, the Slate 2 is focused on a market HP has much more experience in: business users.

At the launch of its latest iPhone last month, Apple claimed 92 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are "testing or deploying" iPads. Of course, not all those companies which are currently testing iPads will go on to deploy them - but those businesses are demonstrating that there is an enterprise appetite for tablets. It's that appetite that HP is now doubling down on.

Analysts have long been predicting tablets will make big inroads in business - last year Gartner forecast tablets will be in 80 per cent of businesses by 2013.

And Rene Batsford, head of IT at the UK sandwich chain EAT, recently told silicon.com about a rollout of Windows tablets the company had completed. "We bought a lot of Acer Iconia W500s and they're going down a storm - they're really great," he said. "We like the fact you can use the keyboard as a docking station."

Batsford added that the iPad has shortcomings for business users. "I'm not convinced that the iPad is a brilliant business device - it's good, it's great for watching iPlayer, but realistically it can't run Word, it can't run Excel, it can't run PowerPoint," he said. "If you asked any CIO or IT director what's the most used business tool within the business apart from your big ERP systems and all that, it's those three products."

While webOS turned a few reviewers' heads, it meant the TouchPad couldn't make a convincing play in either the consumer or business market.

In the consumer market, the TouchPad couldn't compete with Apple on the ecosystem front. With its hundreds of thousands of apps, Apple's iTunes App Store is the 800lb champion gorilla and, as Apple has so amply proven, when it comes to hardware, it's the apps that drive sales.

Equally, in the business market, webOS couldn't offer enterprise users a familiar environment they could be confident would play nicely with their existing Windows-based systems.

The Slate 2 has even less chance than the TouchPad of wooing the consumer market but it can certainly tick the Windows interoperability box that tablet-hungry businesses need.

According to HP, the Slate 2 targets mobile workers who "need to remain productive in a familiar Windows environment", and "who use custom applications that must operate in a Windows environment".

While the Slate may not have the glamour of the TouchPad, it does have something potentially much more valuable to HP: a target market.

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