HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

Summary: The legacy of the HP TouchPad will be unfulfilled potential and going out in a blaze of fire-sale glory. Here is Jason Hiner's obituary of Hewlett Packard's short-lived tablet.

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When Hewlett-Packard abruptly pulled the plug on its upstart iPad competitor, the HP TouchPad, it looked like a sad ending for a promising product that HP once called a single step in a long journey. However, within 24 hours, HP slashed the price of the TouchPad to $100 and suddenly the product was the hottest thing in tech.

I was as shocked as anyone on August 18 when HP announced that it was committing seppuku on the TouchPad. In June when I met with HP representatives in San Francisco, they were as bullish about their new product as any company I've seen in recent years. They felt confident they had a hit on their hands and they assured me that this was only the beginning of what they were going to do in the tablet market.

"HP is committed to being on this journey for a long time," said one of the TouchPad product leaders.

Once I got my hands on the product in the days before the official launch, I had two reactions. First, I was impressed by how functional it was -- easily the most productive tablet for basic business functions. Second, I was shocked by how bad the hardware and form factor were. With its bulbous, plastic casing, it felt bulkier and cheaper than the original Apple iPad from 2010 -- let alone the slender iPad 2 that had just been released in the spring.

The HP TouchPad just didn't feel very impressive when you picked it up. Plus, once you started using the TouchPad, it became clear that the hardware wasn't always powerful enough to handle the software. And then, there was the issue that it didn't have the entertainment or games that consumers want in their tablets. That led me to predict that gadget reviewers would pan the TouchPad -- and they did -- and consumers would likely reject it -- which they did. Nevertheless, I called the TouchPad an excellent choice for business professionals, and I still stand by that.

The HP TouchPad had potential as a business device. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

Once the TouchPad launched at the end of June, it became clear within the first month that consumers weren't buying. At the same price as the iPad, there was little motivation to purchase a tablet that didn't have the same options in multimedia and third-party apps as the iPad. The superior productivity and Web browsing weren't enough to attract the masses.

By early August, HP slashed the price of the TouchPad by 100 bucks to $400 for the 16GB model and $500 for 32GB. It didn't help. By mid-August, word leaked out that Best Buy was sitting on a huge glut of unsold of TouchPads. Consumers were holding out to see if the price would go any lower, while tech industry watchers were waiting to see what HP was going to say about the TouchPad at the company's Wall Street earnings call on August 18.

Still, no one expected new CEO Leo Apotheker to pull the plug on the whole thing. But, that's exactly what he did. At the earnings call he dropped the bomb, saying, "Our WebOS devices have not gained enough traction in the marketplace with consumers and we see too long of a ramp-up in market share... Continuing to execute our current device approach in this marketplace is no longer in the best interest of HP and HP shareholders."

The move is part of a strategic shift by HP to get away from the computer hardware business and become a software and services company. All WebOS devices are being scrapped and the world's No. 1 computer-maker is looking to spin off its PC business -- that was the other big surprise from HP last week.

The HP announcement immediately turned those unsold piles of TouchPads into $400 doorstops destined to collect dust or get disassembled by a recycler for the scrap metal. However, the next day HP and its retail partners slashed the price of the TouchPad to $100 for the 16GB and $150 for 32GB, and it almost immediately became the hottest product in tech.

There were reports on Saturday of long lines of customers waiting for Best Buy to open so that they could buy the TouchPad. Multiple Best Buy locations reported selling out and not having enough for customers who were ready to buy one (quantities were limited to one per customer). At Amazon, the TouchPad quickly jumped up to grab the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the leaderboard of best-selling tablets.

The meteoric rise in TouchPad demand after the big price cut tells us a couple things -- 1.) The public saw value in the TouchPad, just not at the same price as the iPad, and 2.) There's still a wide open opportunity for a low-cost tablet maker to sneak in with a viable product and grab a lot of market share.

As for the TouchPad itself, this whole dramatic fiasco pretty much guarantees that it will become a popular tech trivia question and possibly even a cult favorite among technology collectors in the future. That's fine, but I'll admit that I liked it better as a product that could have potentially moved tablets in a more productive direction.

Also read

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Laptops, Mobile OS, Mobility, Tablets

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37 comments
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  • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

    I still want one at 99 and I still can't find one! I was surprised to see Staples sell it for as low as 50! and yes I own an iPad 2...
    Hasam1991
    • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

      @Hasam1991 I had 18 of them ordered knowing that several would be cancelled - well, 15 were cancelled! I still have three that I *hopefully* will get to keep. I look at it more like a colour Kindle than an iPad killer (which I have as well). If I lost my iPad, I'd be seriously upset. If I lost a $99 Touchpad...not as much! Let's hope we get them.
      logan607
  • Impossible. For something to be considered really good

    (hence "a hit") it has to sell extremely well.

    If it has low sales numbers, then it's obviously not worth buying as sales numbers prove it's a piece of junk! ;)
    William Farrell
    • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

      @William Farrell Not true it all depends on reviews and pricing. There are plenty of awesome devices that sell in low quantities.
      Jimster480
      • I was being sarcastic.

        @Jimster480
        I heard the WP7 is a POS because it doesn't sell to the level of the iPhone.
        Android tablets are POS because they don't sell to the level of the iPad.

        But then Macs are great even though they don't sell to the level of PC's. ;)
        William Farrell
      • @NZ

        No, we know exactly what you meant. It's called a straw man. Most people who play that game do so a little better than you.
        baggins_z
  • Somebody gimme a break

    Now that we know there is an opportunity for someone to assemble $300 worth of parts into a tablet and sell it for $100, I am off to find someone who will sell me the $300 worth of parts for fifty bucks. As soon as I do, I will enter the market and kick Apple to the curb!
    Robert Hahn
    • We lose $200 on each sale, but we'll make it up on

      volume!
      baggins_z
      • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

        @baggins_z
        the japanese did that and the chinese now. wait until the u.s. of A sue everybody for DUMPING!
        kc63092@...
  • Cheapskates

    people will buy anything if it's cheap, and then criticize everything else. ugh!
    systemx
  • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

    I had already bought two 32GB TouchPads for close to $600 each when it first launched. Love the operating system -- it is so polished and fluid. I downloaded about 30 apps already, some free and some paid. There are built-in, nay, totally integrated apps for Facebook, Email, Skype and purchased apps for Twitter, Games, Podcast Players, Video Streaming, etc. I also get the FULL web with Flash, so Amazon Video on Demand and Hulu work. Get this, each TouchPad also comes with 50GB of free box.net cloud storage FOR LIFE (a $20/month value).

    I was just refunded $450 for each of the two TouchPads in a price matching offer by BestBuy and Staples where I had originally bought each TouchPad from. What did I do with the $900 windfall you ask? I bought 4 more of course! I got 2 of the 16GB versions for $99 each and another two 32GB versions for $150 each. All from officedepot.com (they are sold out now). Each of my 3 kids is gonna get one now, and the extra one will serve as a backup, in lieu of purchasing a more expensive protection plan. They all still have the 1 year manufacturer warranty from HP.

    HP is keeping the webOS development team, they are just getting out of the hardware side of the business. So hopefully they will license it and we'll get some great hardware within a year.

    In the meantime, my TouchPads do everything TODAY that I need them to do. They are 10 times faster than the Dell Mini's I purchased a year or so ago. Yet they will still get OS updates according to HP and new apps I am sure given the amazing amount they just sold that will entice devs.
    rlopinto
    • A plan...

      @rlopinto If my calculations are correct you need only repeat this process 34 more times and you will able to stack them on top of each other and reach the moon.
      jondrew
  • Original owner

    I purchased the Touchpad immediately after it launched in July. I was heart broken when I heard that HP was pulling the plug. What were they thinking??? You can't sell an entry level device at iPad prices... NObody in their right mind would justify that kind of purchase. I did, only because I'm one of the webOS followers. Too bad HP didn't take a lesson from Microsoft and their launch of the 360. Sell units at a loss, flood the market with your product, and recoup losses through software licensing.

    The Touchpad is a great device for an entry level machine. Sure its not fully up to par yet, but it has the potential. I had many gripes at the start and fewer since the update. Now I only want someone to develope a good microsoft office app so I can be more productive on it.
    My two cents.
    KeplersThirdLaw
    • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

      @KeplersThirdLaw <br>bill gates, the japanese, the chinese, the drug dealers did sell their wares at a loss for future market share. remember when microsoft was losing tons of money from 'pirates', guess who are the cash cows of microsoft. as for the japanese, they own the car space, and many tech sectors. the chinese, let us wait and see.
      kc63092@...
  • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

    HP has an unbelievable opportunity to take over the table market right now, I haven't seen the numbers on how many Touch Pads were sold, but think of the base that HP NOW HAS, millions of people that were probably not going to buy tablets for months or years now have one and might have/will develop some loyalty to the HP Touch Pad, think just as the Ipad 3 comes out they drop a Touch Pad 2 for a hundred or two lower Apple might be on the mate wondering what hit them!!!
    Thinkaboutit!!!
    • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

      @Thinkaboutit!!!

      I agree, but it will take a company with lots of cash on hand to offer a TouchPad 2 for less than an iPad, since the hardware is still extremely expensive (Moore's law hasn't quite kicked in yet).

      If I were Google, I'd be looking at acquiring the rights to the HP TouchPad now that it has a huge user community, porting Android to it, and then turning it into the official Google TouchPad.
      BabyCakesIsBack
      • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

        @BluMaterial
        agree to both of you...
        kc63092@...
    • Think iPod and iPhone for a bit.

      @Thinkaboutit!!! ... First OEM's were all about the "features" their devices had that the iPod or IPhone did not. Did not work. Then they were all about the price difference that was between their devices and the "I" devices... Still no luck. The absolute first thing to learn about Apple's continued success is that Apple will not dive into the shallow end of the price wars pool that Android OEM's currently find themselves in when it comes to phones and once they find some sellers in tablets they will find them selves up to their collective necks in the exact same price war situation. A situation Apple will not be interested in joining, for some very sound economic reasons I might add:). So no Apple will not be knocked for a loop whe. And if Android tablets start selling at fire sale prices. If iPhones are any example sales of iPads will continue to grow quarter after quarter and Android based tablets OEM's will find themselves locked in a price war where even winning is a questionable victory:)<br><br>Pagan Jim
      anonymous
    • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

      @Thinkaboutit!!!

      Absurd. Whatever userbase webOS gained is both miniscule and temporary. Whatever the marketshare is this week will be the highest it will ever be. Sadly, it's probably not even a blip.

      Regardless, what's the best case scenario? webOS ends up on PCs and printers? Some knight in shining armor buys webOS? Handset and tablet manufacturers license an operating system that has failed twice? Even if any one of these scenarios came true there would be a major delay in new hardware. The other ecosystems would be even more entrenched than they are now.

      It's dead. Move on. Any developers that continue to develop for webOS are fools.
      Rich Miles
      • RE: HP TouchPad obituary: In defeat, it was a hit

        @Rich Miles, James Quinn and BluMaterial:

        Blu... I agree to some degree but HP has already forked up the cash with this fire sale they own the product already WHY sale, people often over look what makes something special,.. exclusivity... Which is why Apple is calling the shots right now, hell you can get Android on a toaster! There's even mind play in the names ergo... WebOS Vs. IOS,... and Yes people are stupid it would definitely work.

        James Quinn... Spoken like it came straight down from the mountain, BUT no body likes a giant (they always want to take up all the elbow room). So HP sits back like please watch from a far with your high ass prices, because the best product easily falls to second when people are FIGHTING in line to buy another! Don't forget the economy is tight right now people are looking to save a penny ANYWHERE they can you don't have to be the best to be the best right now!!!

        Rich Miles... A blip is a blip is a BLIP, HP made a noise all over this country and whether good or bad... you know it, YOU KNOW MY NAME TouchPad...Ooo don't be so rough, Apple is King, BUT there is a reason every man, woman and child don't already have one, SOME PEOPLE JUST DON'T LIKE APPLE!!! Android has become something of a generic choice, a fall back more the less and windows is SADLY at least for mobile devices a dying Giant, the table has unwittingly been set for HP... All they have to do is pick back up there Nuts and get back in the ring... this could be another underdog story that changes history... and you can bet your purse strap every developer already knows it!!!

        Thank you all for committing on my commit!!!
        Thinkaboutit!!!