Hewlett-Packard is stopping short of saying it will release a Windows 7-based tablet-style computer that would take on Apple's iPad. HP has said very little about the device since January, when it was introduced with considerable fanfare by Microsoft. In April, HP fueled speculation on the tablet's fate when the company announced the $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm and its WebOS, which is seen as a strong rival to the iOS operating system used in the iPad and Apple's iPhone.
Asked Thursday by InformationWeek whether a Win 7 tablet would be released this year, HP offered a noncommittal response.
"We're in customer evaluations now and will make a determination soon on the next steps," HP spokeswoman Sheila Watson said in an e-mail.
Whether the "next steps" could include pulling the plug on the project is unclear, but such a move would be a big blow for Microsoft, which is hoping to get some help from the world's largest computer maker to take on Apple in the emerging market for keyboard-less computers focused mostly on entertainment, such as movies, music, digital books and games.
While HP is being coy on a Windows 7 device, it has been bullish on its plans for WebOS. In announcing the Palm acquisition, the company said it would take the operating system to many Web-connected devices.
"Palm's innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP's mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile connected devices," Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP's Personal Systems Group, said.
Indeed, HP chief executive Mark Hurd told Wall Street analysts during a conference call in May that the company planned to build the WebOS into a "a variety of form factors, including slate computers and Web-connected printers." While HP hasn't said when it would release a WebOS tablet, one could be released as early as this year.
To dedicate more resources to WebOS development, HP has reportedly postponed plans to release a tablet based on Google's Android OS in the fourth quarter of the year. HP has declined comment on the report by All Things Digital.
Sidelining an Android device makes sense given the fact that the Google-developed OS is not as mature as the WebOS and isn't yet suitable for slate computers. One major shortcoming is in screen resolution. Android supports a maximum resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, which is fine for a smartphone display, but insufficient for a much larger slate screen.