Samsung is going to provide a tablet version of its Android-based Galazy S smartphone for Verizon Wireless later this year. The new tablet will be unveiled in Berlin later this week, and should be part of a pre-Christmas onslaught by Verizon. HP, meanwhile, has announced WebOS 2.0 just in time for the new version of the HP tablet. While the new version of WebOS will also run on the previous Pre smartphones made by Palm, it was an upgrade that was necessary for the OS to work properly in a tablet environment.
HP will, of course, also release a new version of its venerable Windows tablet, which is aimed at the enterprise market, especially for certain verticals. At this point, it's not clear which carrier will get the HP WebOS tablet. Previous WebOS devices were sold by three of the four major carriers in the U.S. market.
One thing that is clear is that the tablet market has become more defined as an outgrowth of smartphones rather than laptop computers, which is once where tablets seemed to stem from. The iPad, for example, draws very heavily on the iPhone and iPod Touch and lacks only the ability to make voice calls to keep it from simply being a very large iPhone.
WebOS devices will have a similar heritage. While Palm originally made handhelds that were the effective predecessors of today's tablets, it's Palm's smartphones that are morphing into HP's consumer tablets. While it remains to be seen whether a WebOS-based tablet can hold its own against the iPad, it certainly has the ability to do so. WebOS has long been a highly robust mobile operating system with a better selection of enterprise-friendly features than Apple's iOS.
The problem so far has been that Palm's hardware design and user interface have suffered. It's likely that with HP at the helm, the WebOS software may find itself in significantly better hardware. HP certainly has the capability to produce such world-class results, but whether it will do so is another one of those open questions.
The Android tablets from Samsung are a little easier to predict. The Galaxy S devices are available from three of the four major carriers, and all reports are very positive. These are fine devices with an aggressive feature set. Of course, moving the devices to a larger screen might change all of that, as might the finesse required to make the device seem as well-thought-out as Apple's iPad.
In general, Android devices, while different in philosophy from the Apple devices, are their equal in terms of features, software availability and operation. Apple has more software than Android, but more of the Android apps are free.
The result, come Christmas, is that we'll likely see three well-designed, highly capable and highly competitive tablets that will be vying for your electronics bucks. The iPad has the head start, but Android devices have been catching up in smartphones. And perhaps HP can produce a tablet that's sufficiently well done to give the others a run for their money. It'll be fun to watch, and it'll be interesting to see if any tablet maker can maintain the price points currently demanded by Apple and the iPad. My guess is that we'll see a price war, too. At least we can hope.