3 lessons HP hopefully learned from the iPad

The HP webOS Slate is one-step closer to the market now that HP officially owns Palm. It has a real chance to be the iPad-alternative of choice when it launches later this year. Hopefully HP engineers and designers have been taking notes about the iPad from the beginning because even though the iPad is selling like Girl Scout cookies, it’s far from perfect.

The Apple branding alone is part of the successful launch, but HP is, well, HP and a major player in the consumer market with deeper distribution channels than even Apple. If any one company can stand up to Apple in the tablet space, it’s HP — but only if they take advantage of learning from Apple’s mistakes and success.

People want connectivity

One of the main initial complaints about the iPad — even before it was available — was the lack of connectivity options. Where’s the USB and SD card slot? It’s not there. Instead Apple opted for just its proprietary Dock Connector and now offers add-on adapters for USB and SD card slots.

That severely limits the capability of the device. Of course, Apple went this way for a couple of reason, mainly to justify the tiered storage scheme and to market the iPad as more of a big cell phone than a small computer.

That’s fine for Apple, but HP has the opportunity to think bigger. Photographers for one would love the ability to use a tablet device for viewing their pics in the field. Notebooks can be so cumbersome and all photographers need is an SD card slot and a decent photo viewing app.

An SD card slot or USB port also allows users to easily expand the storage of the device — something Apple didn’t want. 16GB SD cards and thumbnail flash drives are perfect for this job and would allow HP to release just one slate model rather than having a tiered product structure. Simplicity is good in the consumer market.

It’s more about the user experience than the hardware

Apple doesn’t advertise the iPad’s hardware. None of the ads talk about RAM or CPU speed. Even the product pages on Apple.com are void of anything relating to the hardware. It doesn’t matter.

Apple instead talks about the iPad’s capabilities like it does with the iPhone. The iPad is more computer than portable device, but Apple doesn’t treat it as such. HP needs to do the same with the webOS Slate.

Show off the interface. Talk about the apps. Explain what makes the Slate stand out. But the battery life is the only hardware related spec that should be discussed. The Slate’s hype will slow down the very minute HP starts talking up GPU or screen resolution.

ebooks and digital content are key

The dirty secret about the iPad is that many people don’t actually read ebooks on it. Oh sure, they might buy one or two off iBooks or the Kindle Store, but it’s just a novelty for a lot of users. Those same users enjoy feeling sophisticated and up-scaling because they have access to ebooks. People even justify purchasing the iPad on ebooks alone so HP must make ebooks a core part of the webOS Slate.

Honestly, there doesn’t have to be an HP-branded ebook store. HP would be better off to simply build-in either the Kindle or Nook app (or both) and then advertise the capabilities. Both Amazon and B&N are in the ebook game for the platform and not their dedicated reading device anyway.

Then there’s digital content. Go to Apple’s iPad feature page. What’s the top image? An iPad showing the New York Times. Once again, a subtle but effective display showing that if you own an iPad, you’ll read the NYT and therefore join high society.

Other ads feature Wired’s digital magazine and just recently, TIME showed off their new mag, too. These major publications will then in turn advertise the shiny new apps to their large subscriber base who will then become slightly more interested in the iPad. Everyone is a winner.

Hopefully HP can capitalize on webOS and convince these publishers that they need to be on their device as well. WebOS can turn out just as pretty of apps as iOS so HP should be able to ink at least a few major publishers right away.

The HP webOS Slate can be a legitimate runner-up in the tablet race. It’s an awesome OS and a major manufacturer behind it. All it needs now is the right marketing and a bit of luck. Well, actually, maybe a lot of luck.