How HP doomed the TouchPad to failure

The HP TouchPad was one of the shortest-lived mobile products ever produced. HP doomed the TouchPad to failure, either intentionally or through sheer incompetence.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The HP TouchPad was a major product rollout subsequently cancelled by HP in just a few weeks. The cancellation caught industry watchers by surprise, and touched off a bizarre series of actions including dumping the entire company's inventory for clearance bin prices. Hindsight is said to have 20/20 vision, and as a result it is now apparent that HP, deliberately or through sheer incompetence, doomed the TouchPad to failure.

The company threw a big press event in February this year, and it was a rare event in that the excitement generated rivaled that of most Apple launch events. Thousands of press members, myself included, made the trek to San Francisco and were caught up in the hullabaloo that HP created. The excitement for the first tablet running HP/Palm's webOS was so thick in the atmosphere it could be cut with an iPad. The event was successful in creating crazy excitement for a new product such as rarely happens. The only ommisions dampening attendees' enthusiasm were the lack of a ship date and pricing.

Those two omissions played a pivotal role in the failure of the TouchPad. Had HP actually launched the TouchPad at that event by making them available for purchase when the press coverage was so high, the initial sales figures likely would have satisfied even HP. That would have happened if the retail pricing was close to, or even slightly lower than that of the iPad. The press coverage put the product all over the news, and the excitement behind that coverage was tangible. All that was needed to make for a successful launch was to make the TouchPad available for purchase right after the event, with firm shipping dates.

Instead HP kept working on the product behind the scenes, out of sight of the press corps that had fallen in love with the tablet. Nothing visibly was happening, and the news coverage quickly died off. This took the TouchPad off of prospective buyer's radars, which was a total waste of a fantastic launch event. The longer the product stayed off the market, the more interested parties forgot about it.

When HP finally rolled the product out for sale, fully six months after the bash by the bay, it was the softest, quietest launch possible. HP doesn't have its own retail stores like Apple, so it depended on major retailers to create a splash for the actual TouchPad launch. This didn't happen, anywhere.

I walked into a major Best Buy store in Houston, a major market and home of a big HP installation, and expected to see at least a few people looking at the TouchPad. This was wishful thinking on my part as neither HP nor retailers had promoted the launch much. Not only did I not see any buyers looking at the TouchPad, I didn't see any TouchPads either. When I asked to see one the Best Buy representative told me they hadn't put them out yet, even though that day was the big launch day. They planned to put out the display later, when they had some time free.

The scene in Best Buy just two months later when HP dropped the price to $99 was a stark difference. That price drop followed the company's bizarre announcement that the entire webOS hardware line was cancelled. HP intended to empty out the supply chain and move on, without the TouchPad or any webOS phones in the market.

That created a frenzy for Best Buy, with over 70 people waiting outside at the same store that was empty on launch day, for the store to open to snag a cheap TouchPad before they all ran out. This scene was repeated all over the country, and an estimated one million tablets were sold in less than a week.

HP stuck to its guns about canceling the TouchPad, and rumors are swirling that nobody wants to buy the webOS business from them. I would not be surprised if HP simply shuts it down soon, and allows the platform to die a quiet death.

In hindsight it almost seems that HP decided right after the big February press event that it didn't want to play in the cut-throat mobile space. I picture an executive meeting where everyone asked what they should do with this unseemingly webOS stuff? I imagine a vote was taken where the result was HP would just throw the TouchPad up against the wall and see if it stuck. With no backing, it didn't, and HP closed the doors on one of the most innovative mobile products to come along in years. Since the iPad, anyway.

See also:

Editorial standards