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IPad’s popularity has rivals buzzing

Bailey writes for the San Jose Mercury News.

The success of Apple Inc.'s iPad has prompted other tech companies to plunge into the market for tablet computers, with start-ups and major PC makers racing to introduce their own competing devices before the end of the year.

Verizon Wireless Inc. confirmed Tuesday that it has a tablet in the works. Speculation is swirling around the intentions of Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s biggest PC maker and the company that some believe has the best shot at catching up with Apple’s early iPad lead. Meanwhile, everyone from upstart Fusion Garage to established names such as Dell Inc. is jumping into the pool.

Experts say the iPad’s early sales figures -- Apple reported it sold 1 million units in four weeks -- are proof there’s a strong market for such products. But it’s unclear whether other manufacturers can duplicate the iPad’s appeal, or whether Apple will dominate the market in the same way its iPod is king of the portable music player market.

“Anybody can make a tablet. I could go to Taiwan, [hire a contract manufacturer] and make ‘Bob’s Tablet,’ ” said Bob O’Donnell, an industry analyst with International Data Corp. “The hard part is doing the software and getting the applications.”

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Analysts say that HP, which sold nearly 60 million PCs last year, may be the company with the necessary size and clout to line up deals with major content providers and mount a massive promotional campaign.

“They can do that. So you have to take HP seriously,” said Jayson Noland, who follows the tech industry for Robert W. Baird & Co.

Earlier this year, even before the iPad officially went on the market, HP launched an Internet marketing campaign to promote a tablet it calls the Slate, which was designed to run on Microsoft software and which HP promised to begin selling this year. But plans to buy smart phone maker Palm have raised questions about the Slate’s future.

HP executives say they want to use Palm’s webOS software to run a variety of mobile gadgets, including smart phones, netbooks and tablet computers. Citing an unnamed source, the industry blog TechCrunch reported April 30 that HP had canceled plans for the Microsoft-powered Slate.

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Although the company declined to comment on that report, HP Executive Vice President Shane Robison told the San Jose Mercury News recently that HP may “at some point” build a Slate that runs on webOS.

The choice of software could be crucial. HP executives have previously said they believed Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 7, offered touch capabilities and other attractive features for a tablet. But critics say Windows 7, which was designed for full-fledged computers, may be slower and consume more battery power than software created for smart phones such as Palm’s webOS, Google’s Android or Apple’s iPhone OS, which is used in the iPad.

Redesigning the Slate to run on Palm’s software could delay HP’s entry into the market by months or even a year, experts said.

Industry analyst Ezra Gottheil said he still expects HP to introduce a Windows-powered Slate this year and follow later with a version running Palm’s webOS.


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