HP had a surprise for the tech world when it announced the immediate retail availability of its Windows 7 Slate 500 tablet computer. Although the iPhone revolution has all but erased the distinction between consumer and business when it comes to mobile devices, the marketing strategy for the Slate 500 tablet seems to be to target it as a “business tablet”.
That strategy automatically implies two things. First, that HP does not wish to go head to head with the iPad so it wants to draw a distinction between its target audience and that of the Apple tablet. Second, that HP is suggesting the Apple iPad–and possibly even the Samsung Galaxy Tab–are not capable of filling the role of business tablets.
There are a number of features and functions that the HP Slate 500 has that are missing from the iPad. The HP tablet has front and rear-facing cameras. It has a USB port and an SD memory card slot. But, then again so does virtually every other tablet that isn’t the iPad, and most of those “missing” features are expected to show up in the iPad 2.0 sometime in early 2011.
The specs on the HP Slate 500 are impressive for a tablet. However, we’re talking about a device that is running the full 32-bit Windows 7 Professional operating system. Granted, the HP tablet exceeds the minimum Windows 7 system requirements of 1 GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage capacity–but not by much. My Windows 7 notebook has a 2GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and 500GB of storage and the system still lags at times.
HP appears to be targeting the Slate 500 at specific industry segments such as retail, insurance, hospitality, healthcare, and education. The idea is that these industries have a heightened need for a portable, tablet device, but also need to run customized or proprietary Windows-based software.
Like the iPhone before it, the iPad has defied attempts to box it with labels. It has already been widely embraced as a mobile business tool, and there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of apps designed to extend that functionality. Even for unique cases like those HP is targeting, tools like Array Networks DesktopDirect–which has both an iPhone and an iPad app–enable users to seamlessly work with their Windows desktop remotely and access those customized and proprietary applications as if they were sitting in front of the Windows PC.
In both form and function, it seems difficult to draw a clear definition separating a business tablet from a consumer tablet. It does seem that the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the Dell Streak are aimed at consumers, while the HP Slate 500, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the Cisco Cius all have a more business angle in terms of marketing–but in terms of the features and capabilities of the actual devices there is no clear difference.
So, is there really a separate business tablet market that is distinct from the consumer tablet market? Is there a quantifiable difference between the two, or is it simply a marketing label that segments the market to avoid going head to head with specific competitors?