Get ready for the new webOS. Hewlett-Packard has indicated that its Feb. 9 launch event will include one or more tablets, and possibly netbooks and new smartphones, based on the operating system
it acquired when it bought Palm.
On Jan. 7, HP Executive Vice President Todd Bradley told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo that the Feb. 9 event will show "the future of webOS" and the "breadth of products" that the platform will enable.
Nearly 100 new tablets from a variety of manufacturers were shown at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but HP chose to delay launching its new tablet line. Bradley indicated this was part of the company's strategy, so there could be a focus on what he described as the "connected experience that we'll create."
His reference to connectedness, and the press invitations that ask the bearer to think big, small and beyond, appear to strengthen predictions that HP will show webOS over a variety of form factors -- tablets, netbooks, smartphones, possibly even printers, smart TVs, and other devices.
In order to stand out from the current two biggest tablet platforms -- Apple's iOS and Google's open-source Android -- HP needs a clear differentiation. Bradley said webOS is the "first truly web-based operating system" and "the only true multitasking operating system, where you can have 20 different applications open simultaneously."
HP has acknowledged that webOS was the biggest strategic reason behind its acquisition of the struggling Palm last summer.
A key question is how many operating-system platforms can have a large installed base in the tablet category.
In addition to Apple and Android, there's RIM's new PlayBook, which the company is hoping will help it re-emerge as a market leader in innovation. RIM begins with a well-established advantage in the enterprise market because of its BlackBerry smartphones, and the PlayBook is designed for calendar, e-mail and messaging through a companion BlackBerry smartphone. Some observers have noted that, while this is an awkward combination for consumers, the PlayBook-with-BlackBerry configuration could make IT management of a large number of units a simpler proposition.
Windows 7 tablets are making a slow entrance, and Microsoft has said it's developing a version of Windows for mobile ARM processors. And Nokia's MeeGo platform could also grow a major tablet presence for the world's largest handset maker.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, said "there's room for a third, maybe even a fourth platform" among tablets. He noted that webOS has shown itself to be "incredibly elegant, with rich visual multitasking." Greengart also pointed out that writing applications for webOS "is similar to creating web applications," which could attract third-party developers to the platform.
Greengart said one big question is "how much HP is willing to invest in webOS." Unlike RIM with its PlayBook, he said, the success of the new OS isn't a critical component for the company's future health.