HP tablet billed as iPad-killer for business

HP says its new ElitePad 900 can break into the business market.

Companies are crawling with iPads, market development manager Simon Molloy concedes.

But Mr Molloy reckons Apple’s tablet is often only used for only superficial content creation tasks, and mostly just for content consumption.

HP’s ElitePad 900, by contrast (from $1095) runs Microsoft’s Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro – so unlike an iPad or Android, it can run any Windows software released in the past 10 or 15 years.

With the help of a $175 widget (pictured above), an ElitePad 900 can also be docked to a fullsize monitor and keyboard.

Mr Molloy’s pitch is that many companies will like a tablet that can run all of their business applications – not to mention seamless connect to its network and administration tools.

He also points to the ElitePad 900’s unusual 16:10 ratio screen (unusual for a tablet that is. The iPad is 4:3, like a TV of yore; most Android tablets are 16:9 like a widescreen telly). The slightly boxier screen is designed to accommodate business software created for PC and laptop displays.

ABOVE: An optional expansion jacket (not available in NZ yet but coming) features a built-in keyboard.

The tantalising promise is that the ElitePad 900 could be used to replace a desktop or laptop. On the go, there’s a choice of two expansion jackets; one adds extra ports (like USB jacks) and a second battery, another (pictured) has a built-in keyboard for a netbook-like experience. And when you’re in the office you can dock.

Well, maybe if you’re a Word or Excel jockey. Me, I use Photoshop a lot, and HP doesn’t recommend the ElitePad for that programme, or other software of similar crunchiness.

In future, we’ll likely see an ElitePad running Intel’s beefier Core i5 processor, or an equivalent, which does have the requisite grunt for the likes of Photoshop (the current model runs on Intel’s Atom, made famous with netbooks; Microsoft's Surface Pro Windows 8 tablet, due for NZ release in a few months, does have an i5 processor).

For now, the ElitePad is more of a desktop companion than desktop replacement, but it still provides an intriguing illustration of how Windows-based tablets can get a foot in the door. 

If you do want a Windows 8 tablet with the grunt for Photoshop, or similarly intensive software right now, HP recommends its more full-blooded EliteBook Revolve 810, a laptop with a screen that can swivel and lie-flat (but not detach) for a tablet-like experience. The Revolve should be avialable here shortly; US pricing starts around $US1100.

Beyond their ability to run Windows software, Windows 8 tablets have their own Windows Store for apps. There, you'll find the likes of Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Kindle, Angry Birds, Spotify, Pandora and even an NZ Herald app, though the selection is still a lot thinner than the iTunes AppStore or Google Play. You won't find Instagram, or Minecraft - and for Minecraft you can substitute whatever is the hot app of the moment, given developers usually prioritise an iPad version first, Android second, and other platforms some time after.

ABOVE: Apple won't let service agents - let alone consumers - open one of its iPads. By contrast, HP is supplying contractors with a portable gadget for disassembling an ElitePad 900.

Interest in the tablet is strong among large organisations, Mr Molloy says, but things are more at the trial than purchase stage (the tablet went on sale last month; some of its accessories are a couple of months off).

A common question is whether the ElitePad 900 can be downgraded to Windows 7, he adds (answer: it can't). 

And there's the rub. Most large organisations, being slower moving beasts, will take a while to move to Windows 8 - which does have corporate-friendly enhancements like tougher security, but garners most headlines for its consumer-friendly touchscreen support.
But this is a long-term play for HP and other Windows tablet makers, and the appeal of a Windows 8 tablet will grow as the OS spreads through business. And Microsoft's overall strategy of having Windows 8 across smartphones, tablets and PCs remains one with appeal to corporate IT managers.
It's worth noting though that HP is not all Windows all of the time. Under its former CEO, HP made a major push with tablets running Palm WebOS. Today, in the consumer market, it's about to release a $229 7-inch tablet running Google's Android software. 

HP ElitePad 900 tech specs
680g (iPad Retina Display: 662g)
Depth: 9.2mm (iPad: 9.4mm)
Processor: 1.8GHz Intel Atom
RAM: 2GB (iPad: 2GB)
Onboard storage: up to 64GB, plus expansion via SD card (iPad: up to 64GB, no SD)
Display: 10.1-inch, 1080p full HD
See full tech specs here.