Facing poor reviews and a barrage of criticism, the HP team behind the recently launched WebOS-based tablet TouchPad is bracing to fix the holes that made the device look like a poor competitor to Apple iPad 2 and other tablets.

Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president of Hewlett-Packard’s Palm Global Business Unit, brushed aside harsh reviews and said over-the-air software and app catalog updates will ensure that the TouchPad gets a better reception.

“The good news is that most of the issues they cite are already known to us, and will be addressed in short order by over-the-air software and app catalog updates,” Rubinstein wrote in a memo to the team.

In early reviews, tech observers had ruled out TouchPad as a potential competitor to iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which rule the tablet market.

In terms of specs and smart features the TouchPad appeared to be beating iPad 2, but a closer look at power and performance tilts the balance in favor of iPad 2.

The TouchPad's main drawback is its design, and its bulk can be an instant turn-off on aesthetic grounds. Apple brought to the table the art of making beautiful devices, a trait none of the competition has been able to replicate fully. HP fails in this too. Seen side by side, the TouchPad loses on looks instantly, before even one gets into the details like its weight of 1.65 pounds and thickness of 13.7 mm.

It is also heavier than the 1.26 pound Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the 1.6 pound Motorola Xoom. There are leaner, meaner devices in the market. For example, Apple iPad 2 weighs only 1.3 pounds and is slimmer, with 8.8 mm thickness.

HP has projected the TouchPad as having a big brain that gives you blazing speed, helps you go into the next level of multitasking and offers superior graphics performance.

However, HP's fancied WebOS 3.0, the operating system that runs the TouchPad, doesn't present anything new compared to Apple iOS and Google's Android. It has some fancy features like card view and functions named clever interface, synergy and multi-tasking, but it fails to impress as a unique proposition compelling users to switch from the iPad 2 or other myriad Android tablets.

The tablet is powered by the 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 processor. It sports front-facing 1.3MP camera and digital microphone for live video calling as well as dual-band Wi-Fi. But it doesn’t have a rear-facing camera.

It has Bluetooth1 wireless technology 2.1 + EDR with A2DP Stereo Bluetooth support. Some other features are LED backlit multi-touch display, 1024 x 768 resolution, 18-bit color depth, auto rotate, multi-touch glass display with a special coating for easier cleaning and abrasion resistance.

But an area where it falls short is connectivity. The TouchPad offers WiFi connectivity, and HP has promised that a 4G-enabled tablet will be launched later in the summer. Until that happens, the WIFi, 3G-enabled Apple iPad will continue to attract customers. It is puzzling why HP did not include 3G in its tablet.

Evidently the TouchPad will be the darling of traveling customers as it plays Flash videos. There are lots of iPad users who read books and check e-mail when traveling. For them, it makes a big difference if the device can support Flash. Another highly useful feature that users will like is the magnetic charging facility on TouchPad.

But it also falls short in its app capabilities. HP's App Catalog, a marketplace for third-party applications, has only around 300 apps optimized for TouchPad. This compares poorly to the app store for iPad 2, which has about 100,000 apps.

The TouchPad also boasts a light sensor, accelerometer, compass and gyroscope as well as audio playback, TV and video, a mail attachment support and integrated IM, SMS, and MMS7. The WebOS includes such features as a user-friendly interface, synergy and multitasking tools as well as the exhibition function.

Tech observers feel that HP passed up an opportunity to score over the iPad by giving the TouchPad better display than the iPad 2's. However, as it has transpired, the TouchPad has the same 9.7 inch display that iPad 2 sports. Besides, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Acer Iconia Tab A500 have 10.1-inch displays.

The TouchPad's biggest vulnerability in a competitive market is perhaps its pricing. The popular feeling is that HP should have been more competitive in pricing the tablet. The TouchPad's success squarely depends on how many would-be iPad 2 customers it can wean away. Currently iPad 2 is the unchallenged leader in the market, enjoying about 90 percent of the tablet market share. Some tablet users think they might not buy a TouchPad even if it was priced $200 less than the iPad 2. Such is the loyalty that Apple commands in this segment.