Why HP's withdrawal from tablet market should tick you off

I won’t tell you how much wrangling it took for the GCN Lab to get an HP TouchPad in to review for our upcoming October issue. Normally, getting review copies is not a problem, but this summer Hewlett-Packard was treating those little devices like gold bricks. Finally, the company relented and sent one over so we could kick the tires.

And wow, were we impressed. I was kind of a naysayer when HP bought Palm and that company’s WebOS, but the TouchPad showed that they were putting WebOS, with its inherent security and enterprise features, to good use. That’s something that feds would find very attractive.

In fact, in our recent mini-roundup of tablets for government, the TouchPad got one of the highest overall scores. If I were a fed, I would really want a TouchPad or possibly a Research in Motion PlayBook over almost any other tablet on the market, and especially over an Apple iPad, which is great for consumers but much less so when used as a true enterprise client at government agencies.

Backed with what I thought was a great marketing campaign featuring Manny Pacquiao and Russell Brand, the TouchPad seemed to be riding high. Then we got the surprising announcement that HP was killing the product, and would create no more of them. In fact, HP is dumping tablets altogether, and possibility even PCs as well.

I honestly don’t think this has anything to do with the quality of the TouchPad. In fact, people are almost getting into fistfights to snatch up the last few in stores, at deep discounts.

No, the TouchPad was doomed before it even hit the market. This fiasco is a classic example of a huge company that is unable to stop and change momentum on a dime — or even on a billion dollars, as is evident in this case.

There were lots of people at HP who probably worked very hard to make the TouchPad a success, but there were also a lot of executives who knew what the endgame would be and let this all happen anyway. The top folks at HP had to know they were going to dump tablets and possibly even PCs, following a trail blazed by their arch-nemesis IBM a few years ago, to try and remain relevant in the market.

HP’s claim that it captured only 1 percent of the tablet market and was thus forced to come to this decision is a straw man if I’ve ever burned one. How much market did they think they could steal away from Apple (mostly) and others in a single month with any product?

No, this is just the endgame of mistake after mistake by HP. They bought Palm for $1.8 billion dollars, and the main thing they wanted to get from that deal was WebOS. Then they go and make something pretty darn good, the TouchPad, with that OS at its heart. Then they throw all that money away and kill a good product with a great OS before the world can really learn that it’s actually as elegant as it is useful.

And what happens to WebOS? I’ve read reports that claim HP may try to sell it to car manufacturers, but I have my doubts. Besides the fact that the Android folks are attempting to do the same thing, I’m not so sure people really want or need a tablet OS in their cars to turn on the air conditioning or radio. It’s sad, but my guess is that HP bought a $1.8 billion dollar program that it may just throw away.

Knowing what I do now, I have to wonder if all the problems we had getting a TouchPad in for review had to do with HP’s internal politics going on behind the scenes. I think we will still run our review of the TouchPad in our October issue, but it will be more of a what-might-have-been piece.

Feds should be mad as hell that they are going to be denied the TouchPad because it might have been a pretty darn great tablet rather than the tombstone it’s become.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 -B

Weeks later and here's an update from the end-user perspective. Development and release of HP Touchpad apps comtinues. I've added several that are very functional (as opposed to games) like . Meanwhile the teams working on an Adroid port continue to make progress. Add to that HPs replacement of their CEO and the 2nd wave of releases of their Tablet and we have a "perfect storm" of cirumstantial evidence that HP may not jetison their tablet, WebOS, OR their PC/Printer divisons.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 Brian ColoSpgs

Kicking HP to the curb over this fiasco. Mad as hell!

Wed, Aug 31, 2011

The reason that HP had to pull out of the market is because their poor reputation for junk hardware, coupled with some of the worst customer support in the industry, preceded the TouchPad. I had an HP laptop that essentially died a month after going out of warranty. When I called customer support to get a repair estimate (it had already been repaired twice under warranty) they told me to take it somewhere else. On another HP laptop, the hard drive failed. Four months later with hard drives being back ordered with no shipment estimate, they finally replaced the laptop after I filed a consumer complaint. Of course, they didn't restart the warranty period and that laptop died a year later.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 testpilot DC

too bad it takes a month to get an article published. The only person ticked off is the author, whose editing process took too long and the article was no longer relevant. Slick OS or not, the product won't be relevant to consumers without an iTunes store and global community building apps, that infrastructure would take years.

Wed, Aug 31, 2011

Our house was able to pick up 4 of them total. I agree that my initial thought was just to port it to Android once available, however the more I use it I realize that it is capable of so much more with webOS. Sure it needs a few enhancements, but what new product doesn't. Regardless, I am very happy with my purchase and would do it again. If the availability and price point that I obtained them for was still present, I would consider picking up four more for the rest of the family. I will be very surprised if another innovator does not pick up this wonderful OS and run with it. This is clearly the BEST choice of a current tablet for a secure enterprise. HP and RIM should have formed a partnership based on webOS. These two together would have surely put a nice dent in the profit margin of the likes of Apple.

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