By Patrick Avenell

Harvey Norman has signed up as the exclusive launch partner of another rogue tablet device, following up its BlackBerry PlayBook agreement with the impending launch of the HP TouchPad.

These two tablets are ‘rogue’ devices is that they use neither the Apple iOS that has dominated the market through the iPad tablets, or the Android platform, which is now available on tablets from a plethora of manufacturers.

The advantages of using WebOS, HP’s own operating system since the acquisition of Palm last year, is that HP is in control of what the tablet can and can’t do. It can ensure that apps are optimised for the device, that sensitive information is secure and how the programs interact with each other.

For example, the 9.7-inch TouchPad has what WebOS VP, Asia Pacific, Anthony McMahon calls “true multitasking”. McMahon said that unlike the PlayBook, which runs off BlackBerry’s proprietary OS, background programs on the TouchPad will continue to run uninterrupted.

The user interface for the TouchPad resembles the PlayBook, with minimised screen grabs (called ‘Cards’) horizontally tiled on the screen for each open application. Users can switch between them by swiping left or right on the touchscreen.

One particularly attractive feature of WebOS is ‘Just Type’, which lets users type into a unified search field for the device memory, the internet, email and documents, amongst other data banks.

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The primary disadvantage of using one’s own OS is the lack of critical mass. Whereas iPad and Android users are over-supplied with app options, WebOS’ app resources are comparatively meagre. McMahon said there are 300 tablet-optimised WebOS apps out of the 8,000 WebOS apps in total. Of these 8,000, around a quarter have specific geographic relevance to the Australia/Asia Pacific region.

When asked why HP was launching with Harvey Norman exclusively, McMahon said that having a tight retail channel solution enabled HP to educate sales staff about WebOS and its differences from the ‘Me Too’ Android tablets. He also noted the strong national presence of Harvey Norman, in both regional and metro centres, and the ability for HP to merchandise and market the TouchPad with a clear message.

Despite all these plans, McMahon confirmed that HP is in discussions with other retail groups. Furthermore, although Harvey Norman is the exclusive retail launch partner, the TouchPad will also be available through HP’s established enterprise channel partners and directly from HP through their online store.

The HP TouchPad will be available on 15 August 2011 for RRP $599 (16GB) and $699 (32GB).

HP vice president, WebOS, Anthony McMahon with the TouchPad in Sydney today.