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German WePad Hoping to Offer an Alternative to the iPad

Assuming you have a TV, a radio or just eyes, you have no doubt heard about the iPad.  And if you have been following the iPad, you have probably heard about the line of competitors, all looking to take their share of the sexy tablet market and knock Apple off the top spot.  Microsoft, HP, Nokia and Google have all announced upcoming tablets, and the newest entrant into the tablet sweepstakes is the German WePad– and it might have a chance at being the first true Apple rival in the tablet market.

Packing some impressive technology, the WePad features an 11.6-inch screen (compared to the iPad’s 9.7-inch display), a webcam, a SIM card slot, multitasking and USB ports.  Perhaps more importantly the WePad is operating on a Linux-based platform that supports Flash, Java, and allows the user access to the Android Marketplace as well as other apps through the WePad “meta-store.”  The tablet uses an Intel Atom Pineview-M chip with 1.66 Gigahertz chip and promises to ship with an open source office package.  Neofonie is planning a late July release, which should give it a decent head start over future entrants, such as the HP Slate which is due in fall.

Neofonie is hoping to entice publishers to its cause, some of whom are unhappy with Apple’s pricing and restrictions.  European publishing giant Gruner + Jahr has already announced a partnership with Nefonie and will have launch day materials ready.  Negotiations are underway with several others as well, including Europe’s biggest newspaper publisher, Axel Springer.

Neofonie founder and managing director Helmut Hoffer von Ankershoffen told reporters that the WePad is not an “iPad killer” but an alternative to Apple’s tablet, according to an AP report.

The WePad’s entry level 16GB model will cost $600, while the bigger 32GB version will cost around $775.  Ankershoffen commented that due to the tech in the WePad and its greater openness, “that’s a bargain compared with the iPad.”

On paper it sounds great, but there are a few catches.  To begin with, no one outside of Nefonie has actually used a WePad or even seen it in action.  A recently held press conference debuted the WePad, but used a mock up running a video of the interface.  Demos are supposed to hit reporters in April or May.  To add to that, units are set to begin shipping in July and August in Europe, but no word yet on when- or possibly if- we will be able to buy the units Stateside.  The manufacturer also remains a mystery.  Ankershoffen refused to say who would be producing the WePad, just that it was an Asian manufacturer with the ability to quickly ramp up production based on demand- how that demand is calculated could lead to serious backorder and delays if the WePad catches on.

Even so, the WePad is managing to generate some buzz.  The Berlin based Nefonie- that employs around 180 people total- claims that it has received over 20,000 requests on how to pre-order, although the company won’t begin to accept pre-orders until April 27.

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