Hewlett-Packard has unveiled its entrant in the tablet race, betting a summer release of its "TouchPad" will keep it in the running in a booming market dominated by Apple's iPad and devices running Google software.
The 9.7-inch tablet running off Palm's well-regarded webOS operating system is HP's gamble that there remains room for yet another mobile software platform -- a risk underscored by news that Nokia may abandon its own software in favor of Microsoft's or Google's.
Pricing and other details of HP's 1.5-pound tablet, which runs off Qualcomm chips and supports video calling, will be announced later.
The world's largest technology company by revenue also announced new smartphones on Wednesday, the Veer and the Pre3, based on the webOS software that HP acquired last summer in its $1.2 billion purchase of handheld device pioneer Palm.
While talking up the promise of the mobile Internet, executives also stressed that webOS was a robust platform they wanted to bring to multiple devices -- including personal computers later this year.
"We're thinking beyond today. We have a commitment to extend the webOS footprint even further as the years progresses," PC division chief Todd Bradley told reporters.
"Our commitment is to extend the webOS experience across the broadest range of devices for our customer."
WebOS is widely viewed as a strong platform, but HP faces an uphill battle to gain traction in the mobile market. Its products are arriving late to a market already crawling with competition from Apple and devices based on Google's Android.
With the traditional personal computer market maturing and prices continuing to erode, HP -- the world's largest PC maker -- needs credible offerings in the tablet and smartphone space to stay in the conversation.
But its rivals have a huge head start, and the company would have to spend and market aggressively to make any headway. HP, famous for penny-pinching under former Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd, has made it known that it plans to invest under new CEO Leo Apotheker.
The TouchPad comes as Research in Motion Ltd prepares to launch its PlayBook, among other competitors hoping to jump on the bandwagon.
"This product has a chance to beat RIM and any individual Android tablet, but not Apple, not this year or next. Consumers will consider the TouchPad, and then buy an iPad," said Forrester Research's Sarah Rotman Epps.
But she added that developers should like HP's device because its configuration makes it cheaper to adjust and "port" iPad apps over, while HP is expected to give them more control over revenue share and customer data.
IDC, the world's largest and best-known information technology research house, expects the smartphone market to rise 25 percent this year, while industry tracker iSuppli predicts the tablet market to more than triple. In contrast, IDC expects less than 10 percent growth in the PC market this year.
GROUND TO MAKE UP
HP bought Palm to bring it a differentiated software platform to deploy across a range of its products.
WebOS allows HP to offer devices with fully integrated hardware and software, a soup-to-nuts strategy that has proved wildly successful for Apple.
Bradley said the company has over 88,000 retail locations. He estimated the market for connected devices at roughly $160 billion and growing fast.
"Our global reach is unprecedented," he said.
HP on Wednesday outlined a number of partnerships it has forged to bring content to the TouchPad. Amazon.com Inc will offer a free Kindle e-reader app, while Time Warner Inc's Time Inc publishing arm will sell TouchPad subscriptions to magazines such as Sports Illustrated and People.
It will also have to make a serious effort to court the developer community. Analysts say a robust ecosystem of apps is key to success on mobile devices, and HP will need to spend time and energy enticing software makers to build for webOS.
Apple boasts more than 300,000 apps for its mobile iOS platform, while Android claims more than 100,000, so HP has its work cut out.
Jon Rubinstein, the former Palm CEO who now leads HP's Palm unit, has a proven track record in the portable device market. As an executive at Apple, he was credited with helping invent the iPod.
But he failed to resuscitate Palm, which became takeover bait last year as it burned through cash and its Pre and Pixi smartphones failed to catch on with consumers.