Today HP unveiled its new line of webOS phones and the HP TouchPad, the first of a family of tablets HP is planning to launch. Here's our take on the TouchPad product strategy:

  • Product: The TouchPad marries the best of HP and Palm with features like Beats audio, printer compatibility, and nifty applications of Palm's Touchstone technology. Just as important, they've chosen a 9.7-inch screen size to make it as easy as possible for developers to port over their apps from the iPad, which will help them build their app ecosystem quickly. The device is thicker than the iPad and lacks the cool aluminum casing, but it has features the iPad doesn't (yet) have, like a front camera and multiple ports. There's still room for future improvement, like jazzing up the black hardware with a Vivienne Tam design as HP has done with its netbooks and notebooks to give the TouchPad more personality–and of course, launching 3G and 4G, which they plan to do later this year.  
  • Place: In a Forrester survey in January of 4,000 US online consumers, the No. 1 place consumers said they'd prefer to buy a tablet was electronic stores like Best Buy–40% of consumers considering buying a tablet said they'd prefer this channel, compared with only 11% that said they'd prefer to buy from a mobile service provider like Verizon. Here, HP has a huge advantage over Android tablet-makers like Samsung who are primarily relying on carriers to make the sale. HP has a strong relationship with Best Buy and the Touchstone technology will play well on retail shelves; however, Apple still has a stronger play on distribution since it's not only in Best Buy, Target, etc. but also owns its own channel–the Apple Store is a laboratory for teaching consumers about the iPad (and how to buy content on it).
  • Price: An unknown. HP is not announcing price at this time.
  • Promotion: HP marketers have their work cut out for them. They've got a strong brand: In our survey, we found that HP was one of the most-preferred brands for consumers considering buying a tablet, surpassed only by Apple, Dell, and Microsoft (Motorola was way down the list). But webOS is a complete unknown to consumers. When we asked consumers what operating system consumers would prefer on a tablet, the No. 1 response was actually Windows; only 1% said they'd prefer an HP/Palm OS. HP will need to promote the benefits of webOS without getting too technical, which it plans to do by pushing the Synergy and multitasking features. With webOS, HP wants to compete with Apple by controlling the hardware and the platform, but this is a pretty radical shift from selling boxes that run Windows.

What it means: 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. iPad sales will be the lion's share of the 24.1M we forecast will sell to US consumers in 2011. For those grappling with how to prioritize platforms for app development, HP should be an easy one to put near the top of the list, for two reasons: 1) The cost won't be as high to convert apps from the iPad to the TouchPad as it will be to convert to 7-inch tablets like the Galaxy Tab or BlackBerry PlayBook; and 2) HP will give content publishers more control over monetization models and customer data, and working with HP will put pressure on Apple to do the same.