The Apple iPad has a solid lead in the tablet space. But Steve Jobs had better watch out: the competition is coming.


This year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, pundits predict that manufacturers will unveil a host of tablet-style devices to compete with Apple’s funky iPad. But the product that could prove to be the strongest competitor isn’t from Blackberry-maker RIM, nor a gizmo from the Windows and Intel crowd.
It’s from the dark-horse rival, Palm — and its owner HP. has obtained spec sheets for HP’s forthcoming PalmPad tablet this week from a trusted source. And I’m super excited to see these things debut at the 2011 CES IRL (that’s in real life). Here are some of the basic highlights.
HP will introduce three models of the PalmPad at CES, with minor hardware differences distinguishing them. All three will run a new iteration of the WebOS operating system, version 2.5.1; they’re collectively a spin-off of the never-released HP Slate. A fourth version won’t be shown off at CES, I’m told, but it will be custom made for university students to prove how versatile the machines can be.

The consumer version of the PalmPad will run on Sprint’s fast 4G network, but otherwise it has hardware specs nearly identical to Apple’s iPad. There are minor differences, of course: It has a mini HDMI port, for example, while the iPad requires a special dongle for video output. And there are front- and rear-facing cameras (1.3 megapixel and 3 megapixel, respectively), both with LED flashes.
The PalmPad is slightly thinner than the iPad with rounded edges closer to the Amazon Kindle. At 1.25 lbs, the PalmPad also sports a USB 3.0 port and a “multi-switch” just like the one on the Palm Pre.
The university version sports an 8.9-inch screen and will have access to a university’s internal educational software; it’ll also sport any other specs specifically requested by the institution. Students will start using these in the Fall 2011 semester, HP hopes.
The three versions being shown off at CES haven’t been finalized yet, but will probably have a larger screen than the university version, one nearly identical to the 9.7-inch LCD on the iPad.
All of this lines up nicely what we heard from HP’s Todd Bradley during a recent earnings call. Bradley told shareholders, “You’ll see us with a Microsoft product out in the near future and a webOS-based product in early 2011.” Sure enough, the company plans to make the PalmPad available in March 2011.
We know CES will be chock full of tablets, but I’m particularly interested in this one. I’ve always felt that Palm’s WebOS, with its card style layout, lends itself to a tablet experience better than any other mobile operating system. And I say that as an unabashed iPad fan.