The crowds you heard cheering yesterday weren't for the women's World Cup finals, they must have been for the "relaunch" of the HP TouchPad. Yes, the first HP tablet running its webOS system went on sale a couple of weeks ago, but according to a couple of company executives the real launch was yesterday, July 17. That's when sales began in earnest according to an interview with Joshua Topolsky of This is My Next.
The statements about the real launch were in response to Topolsky's questioning the pair about why HP released the TouchPad with bugs that need to be patched immediately. The response was that the original launch was in effect a dry run. No matter how HP tries to spin it, the fickle response to the TouchPad release points out the big hurdles HP is facing with webOS.
The executives making the statements to Topolsky were none other than Jon Rubinstein and Stephen DeWitt. DeWitt is the executive that HP has just put in charge of webOS for the company, replacing ex-Palm CEO Rubinstein who now takes an "innovation" role with the company. These are the two guys at the very top of the HP webOS organization spanning both TouchPad launches. Their responses about the lukewarm reception to the TouchPad smacked of spin control to make way for the future.
The mobile game is not a sprint according to pundits, it is a marathon and that is what HP is preparing to run with webOS. What that old adage doesn't address is that in the rapidly moving mobile space, you have to be invited to run the race. Just as importantly, the race has already begun. That is the position HP is in currently with webOS, trying to get invited to run the race the rest of the pack are already running. The race may be a marathon, but it is fraught with hurdles that HP must be prepared to jump to stay in the race.
The webOS history is short but it is important to remember. The original Palm Pre phone running webOS was the product aimed at saving Palm from demise, and the lackluster sales didn't deliver on that goal. The refresh of the Pre (Pre 2) delivered more of the same, with the same result. Dismal sales figures cemented the need for Palm to find a buyer to keep the webOS platform, if not the Palm name, going forward. HP stepped in to the tune of $1.2 billion to buy Palm, a transaction really executed to get hold of the webOS platform as the only thing of that value Palm offered.
The first webOS tablet was watched very closely when released this month to see if HP had stepped up to bring a winning product to market. Reviews of the TouchPad were consistent, and unfortunately for HP not in a good way. The tablet exhibited bugs that would have to be squashed quickly to give HP any chance at all in the hot tablet segment. That HP's official response was to claim "do over" with the launch wasn't reassuring to those watching the first webOS released by HP.
HP has a big task ahead of it with webOS. It probably can't go anywhere in the phone space with the platform as it basically has already failed with that. The Pre 3 that was demonstrated in February this year didn't show any groundbreaking features to set it apart from the earlier Palm handsets. Those didn't sell well so there is no reason to expect the Pre 3 to do any better in the market.
The tablet segment presents a brand new area to take webOS, but releasing a buggy product in the TouchPad didn't do HP any favors. The onus is on the company to get all bugs patched and really quickly to have a chance. There was little wiggle room for HP's TouchPad launch, and having to relaunch it didn't cut it. I personally like the TouchPad I bought on launch day, or make that prelaunch day I guess, but that's just me. The tablet space is highly competitive as Android device makers will attest, and as the new platform on the block HP better get really solid and quickly. It is doable I believe, but it better happen soon.
HP is making noise about putting webOS on other devices like printers, and there is business potential for that. The problem with that effort is that it won't extend webOS as a platform as far as consumers are concerned. The printers will represent just another line of such products from HP, and that doesn't keep the $1.2 billion platform name front and center.
HP has talent and resources to make a good run with webOS, but it better get things in order immediately. The race has already begun and it will take a flawless performance by HP to have any chance to be in contention.
Image credit: Flickr user iowa_spirit_walker
- Cool apps for the HP TouchPad
- Glimpse for HP TouchPad: Multi-tasking within a single app
- HP officially launches webOS TouchPad.. again?
- TouchPad update coming in about 10 days
- Should we now expect to pay $500+ to be tablet beta-testers?
- HP: This TouchPad owner just got very nervous. Thanks.
- Can the BlackBerry PlayBook appeal to non-BB owners?
- T-Mobile G-Slate Honeycomb tablet reviews go live, coming 20 April