The date has been set – the HP TouchPad will launch July 1 – right on the cusp of the Independence Day holiday weekend. Did that happen by chance? No way! HP wants the TouchPad to go head to head with the extremely popular iPad 2. Two and a half million iPad 2’s were sold within the first three weeks of it’s release. It’s not likely that the TouchPad can garner those kinds of numbers – after all, the first gen iPad was already hugely popular. People knew what to expect – a better version of something they already knew and liked. The HP TouchPad… that’s an unknown. But HP wants to make a splash, and by giving it lots of pre-launch hype, and launching it on a long holiday weekend, they might do just that.

Apple’s iPads have had other challengers. The Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Tab, and BlackBerry PlayBook have all tried to step into the ring with the iPad. But they were brushed aside before they even got close to the champ.

But this new contender may be different. In many ways the iPad 2 and the HP TouchPad stack up with similar specs. They are about the same weight and size, with the TouchPad just a touch heavier and thicker. They both have a 9.7 inch, LED, 1024 x 768, 1323 ppi, touchscreen display. The both have dual core processors, the iPad 2 a 1ghz, the TouchPad a 1.2ghz. They both are available with 16 gb or 32 gb storage, though the iPad 2 also has 64 gb option. Both are 3G and wifi capable. Their are differences as well, the iPad has a rear facing camera, which the TouchPad does not. The TouchPad has more memory, 1gb vs 512mb.

But like happens with all the major fights, it will come down to the intangibles. The big one – TouchPad’s Web 3.0 operating system, webOS. It was originally developed by Palm, which was bought by HP. Will consumers find it as easy to use, and as fun, as Apple iPad’s iOS? And will the apps be there to allow users to customize and play as they do now on the iPad? In many ways, the specs won’t matter, it comes down to this… will users like it as much? Will the user experience be as good, or better, than the iPad 2? If it is, then the TouchPad and HP will be able to hold their own and make it a battle.

It’s unlikely that the TouchPad will beat or even come close to the number of iPad 2’s that were sold in it’s first month. That was a different situation, and a different time and economic phase. But what counts here is from July 1 and on. Will the iPad 2 and future versions maintain their dominance? Or can the HP TouchPad and it’s future versions pull ahead of iPad’s sales?