HP needs touch-to-share more than you might think

In my review of the HP TouchPad, which we published last night, I went off on a tangent about the “touch-to-share” functionality Hewlett-Packard introduced with the TouchPad tablet and the Pre 3 smartphone. I think it bears repeating. In a nutshell, touch-to-share allows the user to tap a webOS smartphone to the TouchPad in order to push any URL in an open browser page from one device to the other. I wrote at length about this feature, which is still in its infancy but exhibits tremendous potential. But the real value for touch-to-share goes far beyond the technology itself. The feature is great and HP can take it in a million different directions, but the bigger picture here is that touch-to-share can become an amazing way for HP to differentiate its tablet from the competition in a way that might actually pique consumers’ interest. Tech companies are so concerned with catching up right now that they forgot a very important piece of the puzzle: valuable differentiation. Flash, for example, is not a way for a company to differentiate its products — just ask the senior RIM executive who recently made a plea for RIM to step up its game. Companies are so concerned with pushing media tablets out to market that they’re forgetting to give consumers a reason to buy them over the market leader, the Apple iPad. If an Apple competitor ever wants to see real, long-term success with a tablet line, valuable differentiated features like a mature touch-to-share solution are paramount. With that, hit the break for my thoughts on the technology, as originally seen in our review of the HP TouchPad.

In BGR’s first ever podcast, I mentioned my fondness of HP’s touch-to-share feature. This Touchstone technology married with Bluetooth (we mistakenly said in the podcast that HP used NFC for the feature, however this is not the case) allows a user to tap a Pre 3 smartphone to a TouchPad in order to take a web page being viewed on one device and open on the other. HP gave me a Pre 3 to test out the functionality and it works reasonably well. I found that there was a bit of a delay in opening passed URLs on the receiving device, but the ripple animation is nifty and this service, to me, is all about potential.

BGR Editor-in-chief Jonathan Geller responded to my cooing by mentioning Apple’s end-to-end iCloud solution, which, in part, synchronizes data on an iOS device across all iOS/Mac OS devices a user owns. It’s pretty great. But as elegant as Apple’s solution is, it’s not perfect. Today — or at least, once Apple releases iCloud to the masses — iCloud might be the simpler solution, and it also encompasses a wider range of data. Moving forward, however, I can see several areas where HP’s solution could provide clear advantages over iCloud. One such example is sharing.

In a bubble, syncing data effortlessly across all of your devices is all a user might be concerned with. But we live among other people, and we want to share things with those people. Can iCloud instantly and effortlessly share a v-card with an associate? Can iCloud share a photo or three with my wife? Can iCloud send a song or video to a buddy’s phone? Can iCloud mirror a task calendar entry on a coworker’s phone? The answer in all of these cases, and in countless others, is no.

ICloud is thorough, elegant solution for personal data management that will change the way we use our devices. But if HP doesn’t drop the ball, touch-to-share has the potential to change the way we interact with people in the physical world. You know, IRL.

There are other ways HP’s technology trumps iCloud — I love that I can make and receive calls and exchange text messages using the TouchPad when paired with the Pre 3 — but there are always plenty of ways iCloud’s utility far exceeds that of Touchstone. The ideal solution is unquestionably a combination of both technologies. And unless NFC rumors were accurate and Apple does indeed have some innovative NFC-based features coming to the iPhone in the near future, I think HP could get there first. HP is making big investments in cloud-based technologies — trust me, I constantly get press releases about said investments.

HP is in an interesting place right now because despite the fact that it has a lot of catching up to do in the mobile space, it finds itself in a position that perhaps most closely represents Apple’s. It builds hardware and it owns the software, so it can dictate the end-to-end user experience across desktop and mobile devices. HP does not own Windows on its computers, of course, but it will be adding webOS to its PCs on top of Windows so there is endless potential there. So HP could, for example, add Touchstone capabilities to its desktop computers with a simple peripheral. It could also use the bezel around a display or it could build the technology into the case around the keyboard. This would add a whole new dimension to Touchstone and really extend it to places we haven’t even considered. Then drop a cherry on top with a set of APIs that would allow third-party developers to build apps that employ Touchstone technology on smartphones, tablets, notebooks and desktop computers, and the potential is limitless.

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