According to a report in Fox News (yes, really), Hewlett-Packard will announce its own iPad competitor, the webOS-based PalmPad, next month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The PalmPad will join a growing crowd of iPad wannabes which includes RIM's PlayBook, a number of Android-based tablets like the Galaxy Tab, and a host of PC-based tablets from Microsoft and its partners.

The PalmPad will physically resemble the iPad but be thinner and lighter, Fox News says, and will include several features the iPad lacks, including an HDMI port, front- and rear-facing cameras, and a smaller screen. (Not surprisingly, these are all features I recommended recently in my article How Apple Can Fix The iPad In 2011 on the SuperSite for Windows. Some iPad flaws are pretty obvious.) HP plans to ship the device late in 2011, hopefully in time for the next holiday season. Pricing is expected to undercut the iPad, which shouldn't be hard.

Why all this interest in the tablet market? After all, this market isn't expected to be very big, at least not in 2010-2011. In fact, Apple will be lucky to sell 12 to 15 million iPads this year, and that's enough for 95 percent of the tablet market, a figure that represents just 4 percent of the expected 350+ million PCs that hardware makers will deliver this year.

These companies aren't vying for the current computing market, however—they're looking ahead to the future, when consumers are expected to turn to devices that are much simpler than PCs but offer much of the functionality. And today's iPad provides just a glimpse at that future, so there's plenty of room—and time—for competitors to offer features the iPad lacks at a lower price.

HP's general approach with the PalmPad resembles Apple's strategy, which is to take a simple, low-end OS that was first designed for a smartphone—in this case, Palm's webOS—and port it upmarket to a bigger, tablet-based device. Microsoft's approach, meanwhile, is to take a very capable PC-based OS, Windows, and modularize it so that it can run on low-end tablet hardware but maintain compatibility with the millions of PC apps and accessories. Both approaches have merit, but it will be up to consumers to decide which devices they prefer.