HP’s tablet Titanic: The TouchPad post-mortem continues

With HP TouchPad now discontinued, its operating system all but orphaned, why are people going crazy to buy one? What are you going to do? (And how is Seattle-based Amazon looking at all this?)

With HP TouchPad now discontinued, its operating system all but orphaned, why are people going crazy to buy one? What are you going to do? (And how is Seattle-based Amazon looking at all this?)

If it weren't such an unmitigated disaster, you would have thought HP was the new Apple over the weekend. When the company announced last Thursday (Aug. 18) it was discontinuing its highly promoted TouchPad tablet after only two months on the market, it also announced it was selling its stock on hand for $99 for a 16-gigabyte tablet and $149 for a 32-gigabyte model. The marketplace went wild.

Virtually from the second the price announcement was made, orders flooded the HP online store to the point it reportedly crashed the company’s server.  Virtually any retail outlet carrying the tablet sold out their available stock.  Best Buy, allegedly the retailer most stunned by the decision with 270,000 tablets in stock but only 25,000 sold, washed its hands of the TouchPad, noting on its website it had already returned its stock to HP (according to an International Business Times report.)  

With unsold stock being returned from stores, HP was taking requests from the public, promising to notify would-be customers when it has units of the discontinued tablet in stock. HP will have “a second wave” of tablets available early this week, according to the same report. Here’s a pre-discontinued review of the tablet in case you want to join the frenzy.

As to apps available for the TouchPad, one of the weaknesses in HP's marketing of the tablet, there are supposedly 300 apps specifically written for the Touchpad, and “a few thousand more” available, according to FastCompany.

Trying to nail down exactly what’s available isn’t easy. The HP website is of little help: it only lists HP MovieStore, Kindle, Facebook, The Need for Speed game, Time Magazine, and I Heart Radio. There was the promise of a catalog, although the product cancellation may have ended that. On a TouchPad screen shot, been located in the “apps” section of the HP website, some highly recognizable icons are visible, including Pandora, Fandango, Associated Press, Evernote, Uno, Direct TV, LinkedIn, FlightTrack, and Yelp.

Some are listed on precentral.net, a website dedicated to the HP/Palm Pre phone — also discontinued as of last week.  Some other sites including ZD NetApptvonlineIntomobileTouchPad Apps, and PC Magazine all have lists of available Touchpad apps.

For people with legacy apps — apps from prior versions of the webOS operating system — HP had promised support for those.  With the discontinuance in effect, it was unclear whether this would be available or not.

So why has the tablet become suddenly so hot? Price, for one. This is a fully functional tablet for web surfing, email, and other functions at hundreds of dollars less than any other tablet.  It has plenty of power (1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core), good battery life (8 hours) and what many believe to be one of the best operating systems around.  The fact that the device was killed before webOS had its chance to become as fully distributed as Apple’s iPad or the myriad Android tablets in no way means the system was bad.  In fact, many thought the OS was superior to anything else out there, including the iPad. People generally counted on HP’s promise to hang in there with webOS for the long run to see its promise realized.

Can the tablet be hacked to run the Android operating system? Some think so, but some developers I know have run into terrible troubles trying to run many Google/Android apps on tablets that don’t have Google authorization. Can you have a fully functional tablet experience without the Android Market — which, I understand, is an issue that some geeks have run into?  Lance Ulanoff, the well respected former editor of PC Magazine, posted this list of things to do with your TouchPad if you score one.

What may be the most important impact to come from this debacle is that a new killer price point has been established: everything you want in a tablet for $99.  Yes, it’s a fire sale, and no, other companies will be foolish enough to sell something at such a substantial loss as is HP in selling this device at this point.  But the psychological damage has been done.  True or false, the public now believes that these tablets can be had for next to nothing.

How will Amazon react to this news, with its all-but-confirmed release of its own tablet in the next few months?  How will Lenovo and Samsung, both companies with new tablets, react to the price?

All this, of course, leaves the gazillion-pound gorilla in tablets, Apple, sitting under a shade tree in its own ecosystem, contentedly eating bananas, and raking in all the dough, watching with contentment as the wannabees tear each other to bits. In an excellent commentary on the HP mess, ZD Net writer Andrian Kingsley-Hughes correctly points out that Apple is selling iPads, not tablets. It’s like Kleenex or Jello: the name is the product in our collective memory.

So, it’s crunch time: do you want to try for a TouchPad, or are you going to let this golden opportunity slip away?  Go ahead: guess which direction I’m going.


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