HP is a baffling company, sometimes. Take their approach to tablets. The company was a pioneer in tablets, and continues to produce some pretty decent and decent-selling convertible laptop-type tablets like the TM2. They announced an incredibly buzzy pre-iPad iPad competitor in the Windows 7-based Slate, then repeatedly changed their plans so thoroughly that months later, there’s still no word on whether the Slate will ever see release. They bought Palm and Palm’s mobile OS, WebOS, maybe the best foundation for an iPad competitor on the market, and continue to sit on it.
Then there’s this. HP today announced the Photosmart eStation, an all-in-one printer that comes with an Android-based tablet, of sorts. The printer is a nice enough high-end inkjet, printing at 9,600×2,400 dpi–it’s hard to get excited about printers, honestly–but its touchscreen control center is, in a twist, a removable tablet. The 7-inch tablet runs on some version of Android, but appears too underpowered to actually run most Android apps. It seems designed primarily to control the printer, as well as some basic Web browsing and communications, though HP did partner with Barnes & Noble for some e-reading capabilities.
The tablet compatibility doesn’t stop at the printer’s actual tablet accessory, either–it’s one of the flagship products supporting Apple’s new AirPrint protocol, which allows iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) to send print projects wirelessly.
It’s a truly unusual and surprising pairing. Not that either element is unwelcome–the printer, I’m sure, is quite good, and the tablet looks like a highly limited but fun bonus–but I wonder why HP chose to use Android over its own in-house OS, WebOS. HP’s talked about integrating WebOS into other products, specifically printers, and this is exactly what I’d assumed they had in mind. Yet here the eStation is, using Android just like HP had never dropped all cash on Palm.
The Photosmart eStation is available in some markets now for $399, which is a bit expensive for a printer of this type but pretty fair considering it comes with its own tablet.