A WebOS tablet from HP next year could test which is better: apps or HTML5

Buzz about an HP Tablet powered by WebOS being released in early 2011 could test whether apps or HTML5 standard is best approach for tablets.

HP is reportedly gearing up to release a WebOS-powered tablet PC in the first quarter of next year, a headline that stems from an all-hands employee meeting at HP yesterday. That's where Personal Systems Group VP Todd Bradley reportedly told employees about the tablet project, codenamed "Hurricane," according to a post on Engadget.

Of course, there had been an expectation that a tablet from HP running WebOS, the mobile operating system that came along with the company's acquisition of Palm, was in the works. The Slate, the other HP tablet that was showcased by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CES in January, is looking more and more like an enterprise-only product when and if it launches.

And the buzz that HP might also be eyeing Google's Android to power yet another tablet has raised concerns that HP is biting off more than it needs to with tablets based on three different operating systems.

What's most interesting about the WebOS approach is that it could end up being a test of the app ecosystem. Palm, when it launched the Pre and other smartphones running WebOS, was struggling to get developers on-board to build apps. Both Apple and Google, with the iOS and Android platforms, already have strong app offerings. But does a tablet really need an app to offer the best user experience?

Mobile phones were unique beasts because of the size of the screen, the limited-interaction interface that comes with a mobile phone browser and the mobile broadband speeds it would take for some Web pages to load in their native form. And, via Apple, we've been led to believe that, with a few alterations, apps are the best approach to a tablet computing experience, as well.

But are they? After all, the HTML5 standard - which doesn't have to be platform specific - is an alternative to the app that has the ability to offer a comparable experience to the app and more, all from the browser. Case in point: Facebook last week announced that it was rolling out an enhanced mobile site that would allow users to access their privacy settings, something that the company did not add to their lineup of smartphone apps. In that sense, the HTML5-powered mobile site has more user functionality than any of their apps.

Don't get me wrong. Apps add a lot of value to the mobile phone experience - and in that sense, Apple and Google lead the pack in the number of offerings. But the jury is still out on which route will work best for the tablet. In some cases, there will be a need for apps on some tablets - such as a Kindle reader app. But in other cases, such as Facebook, the browser-based route could be the better one.

No one knows for sure which way things will go. But if others, such as Research in Motion, are eyeing the tablet landscape - and there are hints that they are - then they're definitely going to be watching close to see how much traction HP can make in this space without the backing of a large developer community, such as those that are behind Apple's iOS and Google's Android.