As the TouchPad Turns…

I’m not sure why I’m writing so much about the HP TouchPad lately. I like the device and I like webOS, but the tablet is really my wife’s. I’m kind of stuck on my Android-powered, Asus Transformer. Nevertheless, the story of the HP TouchPad seems to be continuing with more twists, turns and odd occurrences than a season of “Fringe”. Here’s a recap.

A few years back Palm, Inc. started working on a new operating system to replace their aging PalmOS to better compete with the then new kid on the block, the Apple iPhone. They created webOS and launched it on a couple of smartphones (Palm Pre and Palm Pixi). Unfortunately, for the company it was too little, too late and their investors sold them off to Hewlett-Packard in mid-2010.

HP turned on their press release machine and announced they would be using webOS on all sorts of devices including a new smartphone and a tablet. Unfortunately, the CEO who had made the purchase of Palm resigned after being accused of some less than proper behavior. Under pressure to get something in the marketplace to compete with Apple and the rising Google Android wave, HP released a tiny smartphone called the “Veer”, and then in early July the HP TouchPad was launched.

The TouchPad was to be a “more serious” device than the iPad directed at executives. So, in keeping with that message HP hired comedian/actor Russel Brand (Arthur), and Lea Michelle (Glee) for comm

The reviews were lukewarm at best, based on webOS 3.0 bugs, somewhat inadequate hardware, a small app offering and pricing that matched Apple’s iPad at $499 for a 16GB model. They send out a couple of updates to webOS and things seem better, but sales remain bleak.

HP reacts and offers a $50 discount and then a week later a $100 instant rebate for a weekend. Three days later they decide to make the price change permanent. Reports started to circulate that BestBuy, Inc. was pulling the TouchPad off their shelves and would be returning 250,000 units (which was more than the total sold to consumers).

Then on August 18, about six weeks after its launch, HP announced that they were discontinuing the TouchPad and their smartphone line. The next day the TouchPad was quietly put on clearance at $100 for the 16GB model and $150 for the 32GB model. Within hours the discussion forums, tech blogs and twitter were buzzing with the news – retailers’ and HP’s online store were crashing from the demand. BestBuy faced with lines of eager customers did an about-face and started selling the TouchPad again. Within a couple of days the TouchPad was sold out everywhere but eBay where some profiteers were attempting to cash-in on the frenzy.

When HP announced the discontinuation of the TouchPad and coming smartphones they also stated that they were going to continue developing webOS. Many, including me, just took that for corporate double-speak and continued writing our obituaries. But, to their credit, HP’s webOS team has released an update to give the device true document editing capabilities, a free app promotion and have stated a new  over-the-air system update is nearing release.

Perhaps the sounds of jammed customer service lines or warehouse people scurrying around to cover the back-orders caught someone’s attention at HP because there seems to be a movement afoot to bring the TouchPad back to life. Todd Bradley, the leader of HP’s Personal Systems Group, stated today that the company could resurrect the TouchPad as part of its strategy as they split HP’s PSG into a separate entity.

Will we now see the 7” HP TouchPad “Go” that had cleared the FCC just a week or so back? What of the Pre 3 smartphone? Will there be a new 10” TouchPad in the offing? Will Samsung buy the group from HP?

As I finished the latest chapter in this tale, HP announced that it would be making at least a limited quantity of new TouchPads available in the next few weeks.

Posted in: Articles

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Dan August 31, 2011, 4:12 pm

    I still fail to understand why people, apparently yourself included, keep insisting that the Touchpad hardware is at all inadequate. It is actually pretty decent and holds up against anything that you throw at it as long as you have the latest webOS patch installed. If you’ve actually put the Touchpad through any real testing this should be perfectly clear.

    Some people will try to claim that webOS ran faster on the iPad 2 when tested, but that story has proven to be false. It was just the Enyo development framework, and it ran faster thanks to the faster Javascript engine on the iPad 2.

    1
  • DStaal August 31, 2011, 4:45 pm

    Also, the initial price drops were well within HP standard operating procedure: Prices would get dropped on many of their products within fairly short timeframes of their introduction. The Touchpad was just a more visible product, so that price drop got noticed.

    What they are doing now… Shows utter confusion at the top.

    2
  • Ken Schoenberg August 31, 2011, 4:47 pm

    @Dan, I felt that the hardware could have been better especially since they were coming into the game late. My problems with the hardware are:
    1. Processor speed is “okay”. It actually isn’t all that bad once you tweak it a bit and turn off the logs. But, still app load time is a bit sluggish. This factor wasn’t a huge negative in my estimation, but wasn’t a “plus” either compared to the competition already on the market.
    2. Size and weight – The TouchPad is comparable in size and weight to the iPad 1. Unfortunately, the iPad 2 was already on the market. I like holding the TouchPad better than an iPad…it’s more comfortable, but it would have been an advantage if the device was a bit thinner and lighter.
    3. Ports – Would have been a plus if it had a couple of ports…especially a mini HDMI. Also, they could have included a micro SD slot for memory expansion. Once again, these would have been positives when compared to the competition.
    4. WiFi – The iPad works with both 2.4ghz and 5ghz WiFi bands. The TouchPad only on the older 2.4ghz.
    5. Battery Life – It’s not bad, but it’s not all that great when compared to the other tablets in the market.

    So, when HP entered the market at the same price point as the iPad 2 there was no real positive hardware differences. While the biggest problem that webOS faced was that it was released before 3.02 was ready…they could have also helped things along with say a 1.5ghz processor that might have made apps load faster and pages load faster in their browser… and maybe they could have found a way to make the case thinner and/or the battery life longer.
    If the TouchPad was launched in early 2010 around the same time as the iPad it would be a different story, but when you come in late you gotta be able to show people quickly there’s a reason to consider a purchase. HP didn’t do it…at least not at the same price point as Apple. Would the $399 price have done it…maybe, but I think they could have really made a dent if they took their marketing dollars and dropped the price to $299 for the the first model…it may have also created enough of a marketplace to really attract the ISVs as well.

    3
  • Ken Schoenberg August 31, 2011, 4:49 pm

    @DStaal, Yes, HP normally drops prices…but they went from $50 to $100 off way too quickly. Something was amiss with the launch plan. When customers start to see pricing moving that quickly they tend to step back and see what’s coming next.

    4
  • Kane August 31, 2011, 6:33 pm

    I am one of those kooky webos fans… I was really excited to hear HP fully integrating their devices and loading webos on windows 7, but after hearing the news from HP this week, I decided to finally hang the hat and settle for android… I went into the phone store, picked up all devices running android and then left even more sad about the news of webos as android just doesn’t measure up. So this article is interesting news… also the possibility of Samsung to purchase, but my Palm Pre- probably won’t last long enough to wait. I do with things went differently for webos…

    5
  • k4ever August 31, 2011, 6:35 pm

    The hardware is not inadequate. The Touchpad has a 1.2Ghz dual-core processors. 200mhz faster than the iPad2. The Touchpad has 1GB of RAM. Twice as much as the iPad2. The Touchpad has the same screen as the iPad2 with the same amount of quality. The reason for the sluggishness has nothing to do with the hardware. You said so yourself. If you turn down logging and patch the system (which is easy to do), it gets faster. That is a software problem, not a hardware one. HP has also promised a new software update to enhance the speed on the Touchpad, since most of the programs are not GPU accelerated. Software problems take time but are easier to fix than hardware problems. The Touchpad will get much faster over time while all the other tablets will probably only see minor enhancements.

    6
  • Ken Schoenberg August 31, 2011, 7:00 pm

    @k4ever, Yes, but since HP decided to leave the logging on and release the TouchPad with webOS 3.0 they could have used faster hardware. That would have made up for some of the issues. HP came into the game late…they needed to really wow folks and the evidence shows they didn’t do it…nor did they do all that well with reviewers. It wasn’t horrid, but they needed to really have the device “pop”. This is a case where they could have thrown hardware at a problem. We’re seeing that now when people overclock their TouchPads.
    Let’s also be real about the fix for the logging, etc. It’s not a simple process to install Preware. The general user will not do that…

    Right now one of the hottest selling phones in the world is the Samsung Galaxy SII in many markets it has displaced the iPhone as the hottest seller. It runs Android…as do several dozen other phones…so, how did Samsung make a difference? They gave it a superior display, very fast processor and a few other bells and whistles. It made a difference.
    As I said, I don’t think the TouchPad’s hardware was the major cause of its sales problems…but itdidn’t really help.

    7
  • Ken Schoenberg August 31, 2011, 7:02 pm

    @Kane I have a feeling that webOS is going to end up in the HP Personal Systems Group when it breaks away. Let’s hope they can retain enough of the webOS development team to come up with some new versions of the TouchPad.
    I’m not so optimistic about the Pre…perhaps that’s where Samsung might really be interested.

    8
  • Alan August 31, 2011, 7:28 pm

    You TouchPad lovers really kill me. The technology press killed the device as slow and buggy. If all it takes is a little patch and logging change, why didn’t HP do that in the first place? Unfortunately for HP fans, HP has made it very clear (by the hiring of a software company CEO) and the purchase of Autonomy (a software product) that they are not interested in selling consumer hardware any longer. They think they can go the IBM was and turn into a service company.

    Touchpads sold because at $99 most folks were willing to take a chance on a dodgy product – they were willing to waste the money. HP announced more Touchpad sales because they have upstream vendors with lots of components who would be suing HP if they cancelled their contracts early so HP is willing to dump a billion more dollars to keep their reputation.

    @Ken. Please show me the data that says 1 model of a Samsung phone is exceeding iPhone sales – is that in Kazakhstan?

    9
  • Paul Mooney August 31, 2011, 7:43 pm

    I always liked the idea of an iPad, but really it’s just a larger version of my iPhone. My wife wanted an iPad basically to surf the web and check emails, but we couldn’t justify the price. Yes, even with our AUS$ worth more than US$ now, we still pay more for the same product here!

    Anyway, only a week before all this drama with the TP, I was looking at them online, and what really impressed me was the OS and the easy switching between apps. I recall years ago when I first saw webOS by Palm the fluid way it managed multi-tasking and application cards on the Pre phone. The way app switching was done on the iPhone was a waste of effort IMHO – why double tap the home button, scroll to your ‘open’ app, then select? Why not just re-select the app from your iphone screen? It’s not like it was really left running. Anyway, I thought if I could ever afford it, the TP is what I would buy.

    So, last Monday I was reading the news online and I see the article that the Australian retailer for the TP’s was also having a firesale of it’s TP stock at $99 for the 16GB and $149 for the 32GB starting at 2:00pm. It was now almost 2:20pm, so made an executive decision and I raced down to my local store. There were six people in front of me and I managed to get two 32GB models, one for me and one for my wife. I never had the chance to try one for real, so if it was really that bad I could always sell one on eBay.

    I must say, that after using one for only a couple of hours when I got home, I was impressed. I applied the tweaks to removing logging and increase clock speed to 1.5ghz and both TP’s are quite zippy! (BTW: This is something that can be done by anyone, the instructions are quite easy to follow.) Then a couple of days ago, the update to Quickoffice came out, so now I can edit documents on my TP. By the way a free update to Quickoffice that was already included on the TP.

    Look, I don’t care that this doesn’t have the quantity of apps the iPad has, but how many versions of iFart do you really need? I can surf the web (with flash), check my email, watch movies, create and edit documents, etc, etc…(And the way webOS manages notifications is brilliant, so far ahead of iOS) Would I have paid $600 for this over an iPad, probably not. But now I have a webOS device, I can see that there are other products out there that can compete on there own merits against Apple, and in many respects are probably better. I like Apple products too, but in this case, the TP meets my needs better, but I probably would never have realised that if it were not for the cheap price I bought it for. I would think that would also be the case for most people too – which is a shame.

    I would like to think that now there are so many TP users out there now, that webOS will continue to flourish, but only time will tell. In the meantime, my TP will continue to do what I need in a tablet. I love it – and my wife loves hers too.

    10
  • Haesslich August 31, 2011, 8:32 pm

    Alan: Given that the iPad was initially panned as ‘just a bigger iPod Touch’ due to a lack of iPad-capable apps at the time of its release, I don’t see where you’re going with that. The TouchPad was released half-baked and a year too late to compete with Apple at the price points they advertised; HP’s new management doesn’t seem to understand the market that exists at this time, and they rushed it out the door. And it showed.

    At this stage of the game, 3.0.2 has significantly improved the experience; instead of being unbearably slow and stuttery, it’s actually as usable as my iPad 1, albeit without the sheer amount of applications available for iOS. Most of the issues now relate to the lack of apps, or poor app support (Adobe is horribly bad at coding – any one of their apps which they didn’t buy from someone else and leave alone becomes bloated), not from the hardware being subpar.

    HP has been dumping stock value like it was poison because they don’t seem to have a clear vision of what they are, or where they want to go; that’s something Apple hasn’t had much of a problem with the past five or six years, due to Jobs setting a direction and making sure that everyone in the company’s singing the same tune. I’m not certain I’d trust them to offer me a cloud-based software solution, given how they killed the TouchPad and WebOS hardware without warning merely a year after promising to ‘double down’ and ‘go the distance’ with the product…. and their crash as soon as people tried to buy TouchPads on sale leaves me with little faith in their ability to support large numbers of users.

    Give the platform time – it’s still doing better than some Android tablets I can name, especially when it comes to multitasking performance. Just dismissing the platform as a whole is like saying that iOS was perfect when it first came out, and didn’t need multitasking, AirPlay, AirPrint, or third-party apps. Competition is why iOS got better to begin with – look at how cut-and-paste didn’t even show up until iOS 3… several years after jailbreakers had hacked such functionality in. Or the new less-intrusive notification system which appears to take cues from Android or WebOS.

    11
  • Ken Schoenberg August 31, 2011, 8:51 pm

    @Haesslich – The question is will the platform have time? If HP stops production of the TouchPad and Pre and no one picks it up and uses it in personal computing/smartphone hardware what few developers webOS has will fade away.
    The next month or so should be telling.

    12
  • Haesslich August 31, 2011, 9:13 pm

    Ken: I can’t answer that question, but the glut of cheap TouchPads may have – somewhat ironically – kickstarted developer interest as now they’ve got a sudden market for applications beyond the faithful few Pre and Veer users. Now they’ve got a market… will the developers help sustain WebOS? Samsung might be interested in the OS as well, so we’re not beyond all hope – especially if Samsung listens to the NorthSouth Korean government and decide to buy into an OS which isn’t Google-owned and isn’t as poorly supported as their own Bada.

    I can say, with some certainty, that most of those TouchPad sales (including those from opportunistic eBay sellers) will not be going to Android geeks who were looking for a cheap Honeycomb tablet, but to regular folks more like Paul Mooney above who wanted something that could browse the web and do basic mobile computing without spending $500-$600 for an iPad and who didn’t want to spend $400-$450 on an Android tablet.

    13
  • thsu September 1, 2011, 3:46 pm

    @Haesslich
    I think you will see zero, or close to zero, new apps for WebOS. All of the developers you are imagining are going to make Android apps instead, on the assumption that someone will finish the port to the TouchPad within a few months.

    Writing an app is a time consuming process, so it’s not something you do when the shelf life of your app is only a few months.

    14
  • Ken Schoenberg September 2, 2011, 8:41 am
    15
  • Haesslich September 2, 2011, 10:28 pm

    thsu: That explains why the App Store’s overloaded with Fart Apps, lighter apps, and so forth. You can churn those out in five minutes.

    Although we’ve had word that Splashtop is moving their client over to webOS, so it looks like it’s not COMPLETELY dead. Yet. Could go either way; but at least the TouchPad has something more of a userbase now than it did a few weeks back… which should be a consideration for developers, so long as HP doesn’t shut down the servers or stop paying developers.

    The App Catalog still appears to be alive and accepting submissions anyways. If HP can pull their cortical units out of their waste-ejection ports long enough to decide whether they’re going to break their promise of continuing to develop webOS as well, then we might know if there’s any point for other developers to eye the market which suddenly appeared overnight.

    16
  • Dan September 11, 2011, 12:54 pm

    @Ken Schoenberg

    The processor speed is far more than “okay.” It is actually quite fast. The size and weight are just fine, too. The lack of ports isn’t great, but not many tablet owners really use them. Ditto that on the dual-band Wi-Fi, especially considering the fact that most entry level 802.11n routers are only running 2.4GHz by default. And battery life? It seems to last a pretty long time to me!

    @thsu

    Guess what? There really are apps still coming out! Many of the apps are at least as good as, if not better than, their counterparts on Anrdoid and iOS devices.

    Between reviewers who just don’t want to admit when they are wrong and those who feel to endlessly bash anything that isn’t their platform of choice, I’m starting to get why HP didn’t have a chance.

    17
  • Ken Schoenberg September 11, 2011, 9:53 pm

    @Dan, the TouchPad’s failure to sell had nothing to do with reviewers and people bashing the device…the fault lies entirely with HP. They released a buggy product before it was ready in a marketplace with a dominant player.

    While I like webOS there really was no clearly discernible reason for someone to select the TouchPad over an iPad. They should have either come out at a lower price or with a device that offered significant recognizable advantages. Dropping the price the way they did twice within a couple of weeks just made matters worse as people were now thinking they should wait and see if it drops again.

    I purchased our first TouchPad at $299 and thought it was a very good value at that price. I believe if HP had come out of the gates at $299 they could have made a dent and built some momentum. That would have been close to their cost and allowed them to make money through app and content sales.

    The marketing message was also mixed and confusing. Was the TouchPad a device for professionals or a content consumption consumer device like the iPad? It’s kind of hard to call the device a “professional tool” when you have a marketing campaign with Russell Brand and, worse, no available app for editing Office documents.

    Its possible if HP had stuck with the device that an audience could have been built over time, but there’s always the problem of getting the major developers to support the device.

    The TouchPad’s sales failure rests clearly on the folks at HP.

    18
  • Dan September 12, 2011, 9:40 pm

    @Ken

    You can think what you want, but the failure was not 100% HP. That’s poppycock.

    19

Leave a Comment