US computer powerhouse Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday unveiled a TouchPad tablet computer as its entry in a booming market dominated by Apple's iPad.
HP senior vice president Jon Rubinstein, who was part of the Apple team that brought the world the iPod, unveiled the TouchPad to applause in a pavilion on the San Francisco shoreline within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.
"TouchPad is more than just a pretty face," Rubinstein said as he caressed one on stage. "The TouchPad is all about you; how you work, play, and connect with the things you value most."
TouchPad will be the first tablet in a family of products based on a webOS software platform Palm began building from the ground up about five years ago.
HP last year bought Palm in a $1.2-billion deal in what analysts believe was a move to get its hands on the platform that could make it a player in the fast-growing market for smartphones and tablet computers.
"No one has come close to replicating our webOS experience," said Rubinstein, who was chief executive of Palm when it was acquired by HP.
TouchPad weighs about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kilograms) and has a 9.7-inch (24.6 centimeter) display - the same weight and screen size as the iPad.
The tablet is built with a Qualcomm processor that is "screaming fast," according to Rubinstein.
HP did not disclose what TouchPads would be priced at when they debut in Europe and the United States in the middle of this year.
TouchPad software is crafted for easy multi-tasking and supports Adobe Flash software commonly used in online video. The tablet also features a camera for video calling.
The iPad does not run Flash or have a camera.
"This product has a chance to beat RIM (BlackBerry maker Research In Motion) and any individual Android tablet, but not Apple," Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said of the TouchPad. "Consumers will consider the TouchPad, and then buy an iPad."
The TouchPad is likely to win over application developers because it should be easy to convert software crafted for iPads and HP will allow freedom when it comes to making money from "apps," the analyst added.
HP's announcement is the latest sign that this is shaping up to be the "year of the tablet wars," according to Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.
RIM is poised to launch a PlayBook tablet computer, while Google is putting finishing touches on free Android "Honeycomb" software crafted specially for that type of device.
A major Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month was rife with new tablets, and a Motorola Xoom model based on Honeycomb was crowned the hottest gadget at the event.
"The big shadow over all of this is what will Apple do next," Gartenberg said. "Consumers are certainly expecting an iPad 2 and we've seen reports that they are in production."
Forrester predicted that more than 24 million tablets, most of them iPads, will be sold in the United States this year.
TouchPad launch partners will include digital magazine publishers such as Time Inc. and electronic book giant Amazon.
"We are making this a great platform for reading books by partnering with Amazon on Kindle software," Rubinstein said.
WebOS strengths included multi-tasking capabilities that allow for someone to pause while reading an e-book to take a video call, search out a Web page and print wirelessly to an HP printer.
"All other tablets seem limited in what they can do and when they can do it, but with the TouchPad you can do it all at the same time," said DreamWorks film studio chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
DreamWorks has worked closely with HP on collaboration and animation systems and gear for a decade.
HP plans to use its global resources to back the TouchPad along with an entire webOS "ecosystem" consisting of soon-to-be-released Veer and Pre 3 smartphones and a line of personal computers built on the platform.
HP said that webOS software in personal computers would complement, not replace, Windows operating systems made by longtime partner Microsoft.
The California-based computer titan is putting "meaningful talent and significant resources" into webOS, according to Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the personal systems group at HP.
HP estimated that the market for gadgets linked to the Internet is $160 billion and "growing fast."