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HP tablet: third time’s a charm?

Palm webOS on a Palm Pre phone. Photo credit: Abul Hussain,

HP needs to make products that consumers think are cool. Is the new partnership with Palm the answer?

By Shelley DuBois, reporter

The big buzz about Hewlett Packard’s handheld strategy is that it’s teamed up with Palm, presumably to join the tablet game.

HP’s executive vice president of its personal systems group, Todd Bradley, will be at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference along with Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein to talk about the new deal. Hopefully they’ll offer some details about how the partnership is going to work out.

This is HP’s (HPQ) third go at a tablet. Two promising partnerships, one with Microsoft (MSFT) to use Windows 7 and one based on Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system, failed to produce results. Maybe Palm will be the partner to get it done.

Palm offers its web operating system, Palm webOS, to several devices, but it looks like HP has its eyes on a tablet. The company recently filed to trademark the name, “PalmPad.” HP wouldn’t get down to specifics, but it said the name could apply to “computers, computer hardware, computer software, computer peripherals, portable computers, handheld and mobile computers, PDAs, electronic notepads, [and] mobile digital electronic devices.”

HP could use a hot new product. Second-quarter revenue jumped 13% to $30.8 billion, but that’s because 2009 set a pretty low bar. As CEO Mark Hurd said at last year’s Brainstorm Tech, “The only good thing about 2009 is that it becomes next year’s comparisons.”

At last year’s conference, the super-cool new product that Hurd flagged was a person-to-person video conferencing network called SkyRoom.

So what happened to it? The product didn’t get much hype in large part because it caters to a niche market. The main advantage of SkyRoom over Skype is its ability to share data-heavy graphics with the other people logged on to the video conference. So it makes sense for architects and graphic designers, but for low-fi video communication needs, Skype works fine, and it’s free, which is $149 cheaper than SkyRoom.

SkyRoom may hit have hit a long-standing problem that HP has with its products: It’s not sexy enough. But if everything goes well with Palm, that could change. Back in April, a Gizmodo blog suggested that if Palm can gear up its operating system, the company could add the kind of innovation that would give HP a little flash and some street cred.