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HP Slate 500 Windows 7 tablet launches for $799

Hewlett-Packard has, after nearly 11 months, finally launched its Slate 500 tablet computing device, featuring an 8.9-inch touchscreen display, a 1.8 GHz Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM, 64 GB of flash storage, and Microsoft’s WIndows 7 operating system. However, the Slate 500 is a different beast than the iPad-killing consumer device that Steve Ballmer so publicly touted at his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January 2010. Instead, HP has re-imagined the Slate 500 as a tool for business, government, and enterprise customers with serious vertical integration—although the reality is that anyone can buy one of the systems from HP for $799.

From a hardware perspective, the Slate 500 is almost exactly what the industry has been expecting for over a year. Built around a 1.8 GHz Intel Atom processor, the Slate 500 runs Windows 7 and users interact with it using an 8.9-inch 1,024 by 600-pixel touchscreen display. The unit features 2 GB of RAM, 64 GB of flash storage, and features both a front-facing VGA-resolution camera for video chat and a rear-facing 3 megapixel camera for more significant pictures. The Slate 500 features one USB 2.0 port for peripherals (and that can include an optical drive, available separately), an SD card slot, integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, and promises up to five hours of battery life. Of course, since the system runs Windows 7, it’s compatible with a wide variety of enterprise and mainstream computing applications, has full HTML browsing capabilities, and supports both Adobe Flash and AIR technologies.

However, the Slate 500 is not the consumer-friendly system that HP first promised when Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer demoed the unit a year ago, nor the consumer-savvy device HP teased in subsequent videos. Instead, the device is strictly aimed at business customers, particularly folks in health care, hospitality, banking, and other vertical industries. Things like e-reading capabilities, video calling, and content creation that HP teased in its promotional video for the Slate are gone: this is a strict Windows 7 machine, and folks who want to do those things will need to find Windows 7 apps for those purposes—and hope they can be used at all outside a traditional notebook/desktop computer environment. And then there’s the pricing: $799 for a Windows 7-capable tablet is only $30 less than Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad with 3G—and the HP Slate 500 has no 3G data capability.

For consumer tablets, HP is placing all its bets on webOS 2.0, announced this week. So far, the only announced webOS 2.0 device is the Palm Pre 2 (on sale now in France, and coming to Verizon Wireless in “coming months”), although HP has said it plans to launch webOS-based consumer tablets in 2011.

If there’s anything Steve Ballmer’s infamous CES keynote proved, it’s that despite rolling touch capabilities into the operating system, using Windows 7 from a touch-based device can be an awkward exercise in futility. Interface elements that can work with a traditional keyboard and mouse can be almost unusable with a touch-based interface, and is applications can’t figure out gestures, it doesn’t make any difference whether an operating system supports them. HP may be right that there’s a business market for a small Windows 7 tablet, but now that the Apple iPad has been on the market for the better part of a year—and the gates are about to open on consumer-friendly Android tablets—HP might be right to spin the Slate 500 away from consumers’ hands.