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HP Looks to Android to Power Some of its Future Devices

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HP tried its luck at creating its own ecosystem, purchasing Palm for its nifty WebOS operating system and offering up the HP TouchPad, HP Pre 3 and HP Veer. That route didn’t work out, and the company went through a period of turmoil that brought ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman in as the company’s new chief executive.

Fast forward about a year and a half after Whitman’s start, and HP still doesn’t have a clear game plan in place. What the company does have, however, is the freedom to create mobile devices that run on any operating system now that it’s no longer shackled to WebOS. And HP will do just that. The company announced that it will be using Android on at least one premium tablet device before the end of the year, and future devices could be released running Google’s mobile operating system. It makes you wonder: what took HP so long?

Tablets are the future of computing. And, in the tablet space, device makers really have two choices in terms of the operating system that will power their products: they can pay to license Windows RT or Windows 8, or they can use Android for free. The press surrounding Microsoft’s recent launches of the Surface RT and Surface Pro haven’t exactly been rosy, and the touch experience in Windows RT and Windows 8 leaves a lot to be desired. Android, on the other hand, has been running on tablets for a couple of years, and the operating system becomes markedly improved with each release.

Short of being granted the unlikely permission to create HP tablets running iOS, what better option does HP have than Android?

The choice is a win-win for both HP and Google. HP moves to a proven operating system with established-yet-still-growing ecosystem, and Google gains a very powerful partner in the hardware industry. It’s certainly not the first time the two have crossed paths — HP did just release a Chromebook, after all — but Android has never been part of the equation. If HP can put out a great Android tablet, it can move into smartphones and other Android-powered devices.

But a great product might be the challenge for HP. The TouchPad was not completely bad; many gadget reviewers raved about the WebOS operating system that powered the tablet. Its main flaws were on the hardware side of things — it was simply too under-powered. A story that floated around a couple of years ago claimed that the WebOS team inside HP grew so frustrated with the TouchPad hardware that they ported WebOS over to the iPad. It ran twice as fast.

If HP hopes to make a dent in the Android tablet market — and, eventually, the Android smartphone market — it’ll have to put out high-powered, top-tier devices that stand out from the growing pack of competitors. Sources claim that HP’s tablet will be one of the first to take advantage of NVIDIA’s new Tegra 4 chip. That’s a good start. But with companies like Apple, ASUS and Samsung putting out great tablets on a regular basis, HP is going to need a lot more.

We’ll have to wait to see if HP has what it takes to compete in the Android world. But, as far as mobile business decisions go, this is one of first good ones the company has made in a long time.

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over seven years. He covers consumer electronics, Web-based services, and tech startups. Read disclosures here.