[caption id="attachment_2532" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="TouchPad: Not an iPad."][/caption] HP unveiled its new WebOS-powered tablet today, entitled the "TouchPad." Physically similar to the iPad, it sports a snappy user interface and some cool new features. (On the other hand, it does run Flash.) It looks far more promising than RIM's PlayBook, and leaves the Android-powered Xoom in the digital dust. The big question marks are battery life and price, neither of which were mentioned during HP's event. And even though we don't know what the competition will be - HP's announced summer release will put it in opposition to the as-yet-unannounced iPad 2, rather than the current model - the TouchPad is the strongest iPad competitor yet.
And it will fall short.
The oft-overlooked key to the iPad's success is the ecosystem of devices and apps Apple has spent years cultivating. iTunes alone has been a huge component of the iPad's success, as it has allowed users to move content on and off their devices with ease. Furthermore, the strong developer community that began with the iPhone ensured there would be high-quality apps available on day one. In essence, the pump was already primed for the iPad before it was even unveiled, and since its release the integration between it and the rest of the Apple ecosystem has only strengthened thanks to tools like AirPlay.
Now, the TouchPad looks like a good device, but what companies like HP don't seem to realize is that making a good device isn't enough. The TouchPad needs an answer to iTunes, and it needs a strong developer community on day one. Without an exceptional sync system and a robust selection of apps, there is only one way for it to compete with the iPad, and that is to offer a user experience that is so radically superior to what the iPad offers - and to do it for less than the iPad entry price - that buyers decide that syncing and apps are secondary concerns.
HP will move some units, especially to WebOS fans happy to see their platform back in action. And maybe the TouchPad will emerge as the best iPad alternative and crush the Xoom and the PlayBook. But until HP builds the ecosystem that allows Apple's products to feed off of one another, the TouchPad is doomed to also-ran status.