For HP, new “phablets” could be the first step towards a mobile comeback, of sorts

Perhaps the third time will be a charm for Hewlett-Packard(s hpq). At the turn of the century the company used Windows software first in personal digital assistants and later in phones, then bought Palm’s webOS only to squander the $1.2 billion purchase amid corporate paralysis, recently turning to Android(s goog).

According to The Information (subscription required), the company will in the coming weeks launch a half-dozen, relatively low-cost “phablets”: Tablets with 6- to 7-inch screens that also work for cellular voice calls.

Image 1 for post HP iPAQ rx4000 Mobile Media Companion blurring PMP and PDA lines( 2006-09-05 13:40:54)

If The Information’s sources are correct, these truly would be low-cost devices to the tune of $200 to $250 without a contract. That’s far below the typical mobile device without contract, although the recently launched Moto G smartphone costs either $179 or $199 without an operator subsidy, depending on the amount of internal storage desired. In fact, the Moto G — as well as HP’s current Android slates — could give a glimpse of what to expect in these new devices.

Assuming a $200 to $250 price range, I wouldn’t be looking for 1080p displays on such products. Instead, a 720p display — likely a standard LCD, not an IPS panel — would be the more likely display component. Low to mid-range processors would also fit in nicely here: Think Qualcomm’s(s qcom) Snapdragon 400. A limited amount of internal memory and camera sensors topping out at 5 megapixel are also good candidates at this price. But that’s OK for certain markets and those are the markets that HP would likely target.

HP Slate 7 in red and gray

Let’s face it: In regions where flagship smartphones are the norm, there’s little new growth to be had. Instead, countries such as China and India are where the next billion connected consumers will come from as hardware costs decline and new mobile broadband networks rise up. If HP does indeed create lower-cost devices that can be used as either a tablet or a phone, targeting them towards areas such as these will earn the most bang for buck. Apple’s(s aapl) new deal to offer the iPhone 5s and 5c on China Mobile starting next month is a prime example of this opportunity size and scope.

And after HP’s mishandling of the mobile market, that’s exactly what the company needs to stay relevant: A new opportunity. As it stands now, HP isn’t a name that’s on the tip of the tongue when discussing smartphones, tablets or phablets. With PC sales declining, the company simply can’t afford to turn its back on the mobile market.