HP says TouchPad will surpass iPad, Android tablets

May 24, 2011, 3:23 PM UTC
Steven McArthur introduces the HP TouchPad
Image by HP PSG APJ via Flickr

FORTUNE — A Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) executive said the company’s forthcoming TouchPad tablet computer will be the “number one plus” product on the market, besting the iPad. It’s a bold claim, one that goes beyond mere puffery. By being so explicit, the company risks some reputational damage even if the tablet really is better than the iPad, but doesn’t sell as well — the most likely scenario, given that the Apple (AAPL) iPad now owns more than 80% of the market.

The Telegraph reported over the weekend that Eric Cador, HP’s European chief, made the claims during a press conference in Cannes. “In the tablet world we’re going to become better than number one.” That’s clearly a reference to the iPad. But the TouchPad, based on the company’s WebOS operating system, will also have to beat a strong No. 2 — Google’s (GOOG) Android OS, which, like the iPad itelf, has a huge head start. Thousand of app developers are writing for both platforms. Only a handful have signed on with WebOS so far. HP says it has an advantage there — many applications written for the Web need be rejiggered only slightly to work on WebOS.

True, but even a little rejiggering must be viewed by developers as a worthwhile use of their time. If the prognosticators at the research outfit Gartner Group are to be believed, HP has little hope of even becoming a major player in the tablet market, much less of leapfrogging Apple. The firm says the TouchPad will never grow past a 4% market share. As TechCrunch’s Matt Burns writes, “HP doesn’t make bad hardware. It will likely be solid, reliable and well built. That’s not good enough, though.” WebOS might prove to be, if not too little, simply too late.

The TouchPad will debut this summer, with the 32GB version selling for a reported $599. That’s already a sign that HP is probably choosing not to compete on the one figure that all consumers immediately think of when buying, well, anything: price.