So, you didn’t rush right out to buy the HP TouchPad, the tablet that HP’s CEO claimed would be “as cool as Apple’s”?
Good choice, unless you like glossy black paperweights.
In one of the fastest introductions — oops, we mean death notices — in computer history, it went from new kid on the block to dead in less than six weeks. With it went two HP smartphones based on the same operating system (OS).
When HP bought the old Palm (remember them? I still have one if you’d like to buy a piece of history), one of the things it acquired was an OS named WebOS, which actually had an advantage over the system used by Apple in that it was designed from the start to do multiple tasks at once.
Given that advantage, and HP’s status as a quite good designer of computer products, it was only considered slightly overboard in January when HP’s CEO made the “cool” comparison. After all, Apple was selling every iPad it could make, so the tablet market was going gangbusters.
Way Back When
In February, the first TouchPad models were unveiled to the reseller market. But the information about it was vague: The launch date was “summer” and there was no pricing information. So, there were way many more questions than answers.
In March, the software development kit, a critical piece needed by developers to create applications, was released — but only to a very limited number of high-level HP partners. The great unwashed mass of developers had to wait until after the TouchPad launched — a fatal error.
Think about the iPhone and the Android — exactly where would they be without all those really cool apps that you can download cheaply? Yep, that was where the TouchPad was — when it finally did come out, there were very few (think no) exciting apps. There was just a promise that they were coming, which is hardly a reason to buy one right now.
All this didn’t stop HP’s boasting. In May, its European VP said the TouchPad would overtake the iPad. I wonder what used cars he’s selling now.
In June, HP finally announced a launch date of July 1. Except people trying to pre-order them couldn’t. So that became “well, maybe July 17.” When it did arrive, the reviews were tepid. Heavier than an iPad, with a so-so screen and lacking any cool software, it failed to excite anyone.
By Aug. 1, less than two weeks later, the price-slashing had begun. HP announced a “back-to-school” promotion that knocked off $100. And then Staples had a coupon that took off another $100. They were trying to buy customers, a desperate move.
On Aug. 16, industry publications noted that Best Buy had bought 270,000 of the units but only sold 25,000 and was asking HP to buy them back. Next step: boat anchors. OK, small boat anchors, so maybe they weren’t even suited for that.
On Aug. 18, HP officially killed the whole project.
That weekend, a 16-gigawatt unit that listed originally for $550 could be had for $99. Naturally, they pretty well sold out. Apparently, some people still think that independent developers will come up with some worthwhile apps or at that price they simply couldn’t resist. Good luck with that.
PC Magazine’s web site did have an article on the “Ten best things to do with your $99 TouchPad,” which included alarm clock (they were only slightly kidding; the WeatherBug app could be nice in the morning) and “baby’s first tablet.” It also does Pandora and iHeartRadio if you want to do music or Skype for video calls.
I guess it depends on how much you want a unit that will have absolutely no support.
HP has been doing the usual reshuffle of people after this debacle and has even hinted that the Personal Systems Group of the company may be sold off. Someone has to answer for the ton of money that HP threw down this rat hole — even though it said it would lose more if it continued.
Luckily, it has been making large profits selling other things, so it will survive quite nicely. The real hurting people here will be the computer resellers and consultants who were HP partners and dutifully went out to their customers selling the TouchPad as the next big wonderful thing. Ouch.
A Long, Strange Trip
Stand and raise a glass, please: As of August, I have been an independent computer dude for 20 years. Yeah, it’s astounding to me, too. Back in the early days, I was making IBM clones out of parts. The biggest challenge was getting things to boot; as one of my suppliers noted, anyone in Taiwan with an engineer brother-in-law was burning boards in his garage, and standardization and reliability were a concept, not an actuality.
Now, of course, building things is silly if you want to make a profit, although the ability to replace a hard drive still comes in handy. The ability to extract files from a “dead” drive is worth far more.
Quite a few changes; many more to come, I’m sure. This should stay interesting, so I plan to stick around.
Cliff Feldwick is president of Riverside Computer Consultants. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at email@example.com.