HP's Slate has had an awfully turbulent history for a product that's never seen a retail release. First shown off at CES to great fanfare by none other than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the tablet garnered huge support as the anti-iPad. USB ports? Flash? Multitasking? PC-level power? Expandable memory? The HP Slate had it all, and the iPad didn't. For those who thought the iPad little more than a magnified iPod Touch, the Slate seemed like just what they'd been wanting.
But it wasn't to be, at least not in that form. Though its desktop OS and netbook guts made it more powerful than the more smartphone-like iPad, that power came at the cost of battery life. And then, improbably, a Mexican gadget site I'd never heard of got their hands on what appeared to be a finished prototype of the Slate.
The site, Conecti.ca, gave the Slate a once-over and found it incredibly lacking. The build quality, interface, and load times were all judged to be lacking, and we all realized what the Windows-7-running Slate really was: a keyboard-less netbook. Ten days later, HP was reported to have axed the project.
Now, according to DigiTimes, an HP Taiwan executive confirmed that the Slate is alive and well, and that, like we all hoped, HP has swapped out Windows 7 for their newly acquired mobile OS, Palm's WebOS. As soon as HP acquired Palm, the rumors of a WebOS tablet started, for good reason: WebOS is a great, underrated OS, more polished than Android and more flexible than iPhone, and it's particularly suited for tablets. For example, its "card" multitasking system relies on thumbnails of apps, which would be extremely effective on a larger screen.
Of course, HP has a lot of work ahead of them--if they simply slap WebOS on the Slate, they'll have a pretty disappointing product on their hands. As much as some people trashed Apple for merely recycling the iPhone OS for the iPad, in fact they did quite a bit of work to accommodate the bigger screen: An e-bookstore and e-book-reading app, new partnerships with magazine and newspaper content providers, and efforts with app developers to ensure the App Store would be properly flooded with appropriate iPad apps. Palm and HP can make those steps, but they'll need to work at it. A WebOS tablet could offer a serious challenge to the iPad.