SAN FRANCISCO _ Microsoft leadership announcements and leaks about the next iPad can’t distract from the fact that the world’s largest computer maker today is launching its own operating system.
Hewlett-Packard is holding an Applesque launch event at a waterfront pavilion to present the latest version of the WebOS platform it acquired with the purchase of Palm last April for $1.2 billion. The company’s also presenting new smartphones and a touchscreen tablet based on the software.
In addition to tablets, HP is going to put its operating system on personal computers, including laptops and desktops that have traditionally used Microsoft’s Windows.
I’ll be updating this entry as the event progresses.
HP’s executive vice president for personal systems, Todd Bradley, opened the event by saying the company’s bringing memorable new experiences comparable to the first time he heard the whisper of an electric car.
“We should all witness these firsts as often as we can in our lives. If you think about it creating those experiences for a living is what the technology industry is all about,” he said.
Bradley said the company has more than 1 billion customers around the world in 174 countries, with 88,000 retail locations, and it’s selling 120 PCs every minute.
Our intention with WebOS is to transform how people think, feel and connect to different devices and services, he said.
Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president, came on stage for the actual launch.
After talking about the genesis of WebOS five years ago, Rubinstein presented the first new product, the tiny Veer phone that’s about the size of a credit card with a 2.6-inch screen but has 8 gigabytes of storage, HSPA+ wireless and an 800 megahertz Snapdragon processor. It also works as a mobile hotspot for up to five devices, and will go on sale in “early spring.”
“Never before has a smartphone done so much and felt so little,” he said.
Then he pulled out the Pre3, a more business-oriented phone with a 3.6-inch diagonal screen, slide-out keyboard and HSPA+ and EVDO rev. a world phone radios. It runs on a 1.4 gigahertz Snapdragon processor.
It’s going to be available in the summer.
The tablet is called the TouchPad and has Qualcomm’s newest dual-core Snapdragon processor that runs at 1.2 gigahertz.
The tablet is 1.6-pounds, a 9.6-inch display with 1024 by 728 resolution, has video calling capability and 16 or 32 gigabytes of storage.
Rubinstein said the pad has features that “blow away” the competition, including multitasking and “activity cards” that show open applications.
Driving home some capabilities that exceed those of the iPad, he said the device can be used to work with Microsoft Office documents via Quickoffice, runs Adobe Flash and has standard printing options. The device has printer drivers built-in and discovers and prints to wireless printers made by HP; there wasn’t word on how it works with other companies’ printers.
A demo showed how the TouchPad and Pre phones sync together in the home, so calls and messags can be handled on the larger device.
Its calendar syncs with multiple sources, including Microsoft’s Exchange and Google Calendars, and its email boxes supports multiple accounts at once.
Although HP’s firing a broadside at Microsoft by declining to use Windows on its new tablet, the company did throw roses to a few smaller Seattle tech companies. During the demo, the TouchPad was used to shop for a diamond at Blue Nile and find a recipe at AllRecipes.com.
The demo also highlighted a TouchPad Kindle application that renders pages with color illustrations and supports the new Kindle “collections” feature. Also shown was a special version of Sports Illustrated for the tablet.
HP repeatedly called out the touchscreen keypad on the TouchPad, which includes a dedicated row of number keys.
HP will begin selling the TouchPad this summer in a WiFi version. A 3G version will follow later. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed yet.
Rubinstein mentioned that the device’s Skype application will work over Verizon’s network, so Verizon’s at least one of the 3G providers.
Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs is now on stage, talking about the company’s partnership with HP.
“These things are proof that the future is really wide open when it comes to growth and opportunities in the mobile space,” Jacobs said.
Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon chips power console-quality gaming and stereoscopic 3D on mobile devices, he said.
HP has ambitious goals for the WebOS platform, which it sees as a major challenge to Windows, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
The company’s goal is to build the largest community of connected devices in the world, creating a big draw for software developers, according to Steven McArthur, senior vice president for applications and services (below).
“Virtually no other company could credibly put forward such a goal,” he said.
McArthur – a former president of Expedia’s leisure travel group – went on to say TouchPad will be the best mobile gaming platform.
Bradley came back on stage for the biggest news, though. HP plans to extend WebOS to other devices including printers and its laptop and desktop PCs. There were few details about the PC plans but it’s a big blow to Microsoft.
I wonder what Microsoft, Apple and Google think of this bravado.