HP straddles two worlds: enterprise systems and consumer electronics. Its new TouchPad tablet is intended to satisfy the needs of both. But you'll have to look harder and wait longer to see HP's unfolding enterprise plan for TouchPad.
The Wi-Fi TouchPad, running the webOS firmware created by Palm, goes on sale Friday starting at US$500 in stores ranging from Amazon to Walmart, the same outlets that handle its PCs and printers. But the tablet is "enterprise ready," says HP's David Gee, vice president of marketing and enterprise solution for the Palm Global Business Unit. He oversees the marketing strategy for all webOS devices as well as development of webOS-based "solutions" for business customers.
He's got a tough job ahead of him. Analysts are lukewarm about the TouchPad's prospect for success against Apple's iPad 2 and the latest crop of tablets running the Android 3.1 firmware. But the market is still barely a year old, since it was created in 2010 with the release of the first iPad.
BACKGROUND: HP TouchPad goes on sale to mixed reviews
Via webOS 3.0, TouchPad offers what HP calls "essential management and security." HP, like Apple and Google, is relying initially on the features in Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, a push synchronization protocol that links mobile devices with Microsoft Exchange Server and leverages features like password management, remote device wipe and others. The OS also supports a full panoply of Wi-Fi authentication and security standards, and two VPN clients: IPSEC VPN, and Cisco Any Connect VPN. TouchPad leverages HP's wireless printing and ePrint technologies.
With today's launch, MobileIron will offer a native webOS client to its mobile device management application. HP is in talks with all the other leading MDM vendors to do the same thing, Gee says.
But Gee readily admits that these "essential" features are "table stakes" -- the basic necessities to meet a minimum level of security and manageability.
"Since we have one of the world's largest [IT] service organizations and software for IT management and security, for application development quality assurance and security, and experience in how we run data centers, the real opportunity is in asking, 'What lessons can we learn from all this and then build into webOS?'" Gee says. [See HP's Web page for its enterprise software infrastructure offerings.]
He would only talk in generalities, such as the need for centralized management in deploying and supporting thousands of webOS devices, or the value in leveraging software quality assurance capabilities for webOS development. He declined to be specific about upcoming products or their availability, but insisted HP is committed to this course.
"We are dead set on turning those into reality, really fast," he says.
Only Microsoft is in a similar position to integrate a mobile platform, in this case Windows Phone 7, with an extensive, existing corporate IT infrastructure. Neither Apple nor Google, by contrast, have presence in the back end of the corporate network, though some of that is changing as back end services migrate to a mix of public and private clouds. And both rely heavily on Exchange ActiveSync and third-party device management software for security and management features.
"No major business wakes up one day and says, 'We want a bunch of tablets,'" Gee says. "Instead, they're asking, 'How do I extend an existing legacy infrastructure to a mobile workforce and mobile customers?' You have to look at webOS in the context of modernizing an existing [IT] infrastructure."
That modernization trend includes storage virtualization and network threat analysis and management. Last year, HP invested heavily in both these areas by buying 3PAR, a storage utility vendor, and ArcSight, which offers security event monitoring, analysis and correlation to detect threats or compliance violations. "It's logical to assume that technologies from 3PAR and ArcSight will be closely integrated into webOS, and customized for the specific requirements of HP's clients," says Mykola Golovko, an analyst with Euromonitor International, a U.K.-based global market research company.
One person willing to test Gee's claim that the TouchPad is enterprise-ready is James Gordon, vice president of Needham Bank in Needham, Mass. He's on a list to get one of the new tablets for evaluation. "We're supporting the 'consumerization' of IT," he says. "I want to make sure that our mobile projects are as technologically agnostic as possible. And I want to gauge the security of these [new] platforms. I have real reservations about [Google] Android every time I read about it."
The community bank has about $1.1 billion in assets, five branches, and about 95 employees. Half of them, up from a quarter just six months ago, and most recently the board of directors, are equipped with mobile devices running Apple's iOS: about 30 iPhones and 20 iPads.
Gordon says he likes the fact that the TouchPad's firmware is webOS 3.0 and not 1.0. It's the latest version of the OS first released on Palm smartphones two years ago. He's also intrigued by HP's plans to bring webOS to a wide range of new and existing products, a plan he calls "reasonably brilliant."
"A lot of their devices and netbooks have a 'prelaunch' mode," he says. "If you just want to play a DVD or take a picture or surf the Web, you can do it without having to run the full Windows OS. But it's ugly. As they replace this prelaunch with webOS, it will be a game-changer. When users realize they can go into webOS and have five times the battery life and six times the performance of Windows, they'll have an epiphany."
The current thin crop of webOS applications is "not a huge issue for me," he says, in part because he favors a combination of Web apps and secure, remote access by mobile devices to Windows PCs via Array Networks' DesktopDirect application and appliance.
HP will also be attacking the enterprise through a vertical market strategy of working with systems integrators and value-added resellers with expertise and products for specific industries.
"It's not just about knocking on the CIO's door and saying, 'Hey, look at our new TouchPad,'" says Gee. "That's piecemeal. Our value proposition is incorporating webOS into solutions that we're delivering to our customer base. A hospital with legacy clinical applications wants to deliver these securely to mobile devices. Or an airline wants to change the passenger check-in experience."
The webOS online applications catalog will shortly feature "enterprise shelves" that will let business customers publish mobile apps that are only visible to and downloadable by company employees.
"HP needs to target the TouchPad at the enterprise, but it must build in enough features to make it attractive for enterprise users," says Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates, a Massachusetts-based strategic consulting firm. "But it's going to be hard-pressed to go against the momentum of the iPad, even though the iPad is not especially enterprise-friendly in terms of security and management."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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