If nothing else, Windows 8 is spurring some creativity in tablet design, even for business users. Hewlett-Packard's new ElitePad 900, for example, offers an innovative expansion strategy and other accessories to try to position it as a primary business computer. One big question: How much will it all cost?
I got a chance to play with the new ElitePad at a recent HP launch event in San Francisco, and I was intrigued by the sleek device and accessories designed to turn the tablet into a primary computing device. I instinctively support any attempt to expand computer and mobile-device options, and my initial impression is that this felt like a truly new approach that could add real value.
But many questions remain as to whether professionals, who HP is aiming at with the ElitePad, will embrace the new model.
First The Basics
The ElitePad's machined aluminum case holds Intel's new Clover Trail processors, a 10.1-inch Gorilla Glass screen with 1280 x 800 resolution with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The screen looked great in a dimly lit hotel room.
There are twin cameras, a dual-array microphone and stereo speakers. There are 2GB of RAM and up to 64GB of storage. A service door opens to reveal slots for a SIM card (the ElitePad supports 3G, 4G and NFC wireless connections) as well as a MicroSD slot. (In a very un-Apple approach, many parts of the ElitePad are consumer-servicable, a perk that corporate IT shops will no doubt appreciate.)
The whole thing weighs 1.5 pounds and is 9.2mm thick. But those numbers are misleading because the ElitePad doesn't really get going until you start adding accessories.
One Tablet For All Tasks?
Because the ElitePad is fully compatible with Windows 8, HP wants to position it as a professional's primary computer, but computing horsepower aside, clearly a tablet lacks all of the required connectivity and interface options. So HP has surrounded the tablet with a collection of options designed to configure it for whatever purpose is required at the time.
There's a docking station, for example, with connections for an external monitor and other ports to turn it into a desktop. (Other options include a simple external Bluetooth keyboard, an optical drive and a Tablet Pen.)
But by far the most interesting accessory is HP's "smart jacket," designed to add capabilities for specific roles. Slipping on the productivity smart jacket adds a hard-connected keyboard, a second battery, better speakers, more ports and more slots. Presto, you've got a fully functional laptop.
Will the idea of using a tablet as a primary computing device take off in corporate America? That depends on pricing, of course, and HP is not saying how much any of this will cost when it hits the market early next year.
But the bigger question is how well a Swiss Army knife of a computer can perform each task it attempts. If it fails significantly on any one of them, the whole value propostion crumbles.
Either way, though, I give HP -- and ultimately Microsoft, too -- credit for at least trying to expand the category and to address computing problems. Since the introduction of the iPad, we haven't seen that much innovation in form factor, but Windows 8 seems to be starting that process. Not all of the results will be pretty or successful but it's still a good thing.