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Phil McKinney, chief technology officer of Hewlett Packard’s personal systems group, offered some broad hints today about HP’s mobile strategy while speaking at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2010 conference conference in San Francisco. He didn’t announce any new products, but he discussed HP’s acquisition of Palm and previewed some of the cool technology his team is working on.

McKinney started off by drawing a chart showing the traditional trade-off between reach/mobility and richness. On one end, you have a 50-inch television (maximum richness, no mobility), on the other you have a mobile phone (very mobile, not much richness), and most devices lie somewhere in between.

One of the biggest questions right now, he said, is what devices will fill the gap in that spectrum — “larger than a smartphone, smaller than a netbook.” Successful devices in that area include e-book readers and what McKinney and others have called “slates,” although most readers probably think of them as tablets. McKinney emphasized that he wasn’t announcing a specific slate product, but he said HP has already made it clear it wants to run Palm’s webOS operating system on slates, as well as on printers.

McKinney added that the real goal with Palm is to figure out, “How do I get off the line here?” In other words, instead of trading off between richness and mobility, HP wants to create devices that deliver more richness and more mobility.

He didn’t bring any phones on stage, but that doesn’t mean he showed up empty-handed. He unrolled a sheet of printed, flexible screens that he said form the backpane of the displays on new devices. Those screens are printed on the same mylar film as flexible solar arrays. In the first generation, the screens won’t actually be flexible when you buy them — instead, this printing technology “fundamentally transforms” the form factors of the mobile devices you can release. For example, it becomes possible to wallpaper a room with video displays.

After his speech, McKinney was questioned by Accel Partners‘ Rich Wong. He ducked any questions about specific product announcements, but he did talk about why HP spent the money to buy Palm, rather than focusing on building devices with existing operating systems like Android or Windows.

“When you look at success in the marketplace, it’s about those companies that can control the end-to-end experience,” McKinney said.

[photo: JP Manninen]

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