Lessons for the enterprise from HP's tablet adventure

Hewlett-Packard’s recent exit and then temporary re-entry into the tablet computer market has provided one of the more telling story lines for a product category that has quickly — and unexpectedly — become a big deal in enterprise IT. In fact, HP’s decision to kill its TouchPad tablet line offers a few lessons for government CIOs pondering their next mobile computing move.

  • People love the tablet form factor. How else to explain the frenzy of people snatching up the last few dead-end TouchPads, albeit seriously marked down? A bargain is a bargain, and what’s not to like about getting a $500 device for $100? But it’s a bargain with no future when it comes to all the fun and useful tablet apps that everyone loves so much because software developers are abandoning the TouchPad’s webOS platform, reports Mark Hachman at PC Magazine. Therefore, if people dropped a hundred bucks for a basically app-less tablet, they must have done it because they really like the form factor.
  • Expect tablet pricing to go below iPad’s $500 benchmark. See the lesson above for what a low price can do for tablet sales. And don’t think other tablet manufacturers aren’t noticing it, too. Of course, HP’s $99 fire-sale price is an unsustainable business model, given that the TouchPad’s parts alone probably cost more than $300, according to market researcher iSuppli. Several industry observers expect Amazon’s anticipated but officially unannounced tablet to go on sale this fall for about $300 or less, reports Dan Gallagher at MarketWatch. Early bets say Amazon might provide Apple’s most serious tablet competition yet.
  • Enterprise-class features are important — and still lacking. The TouchPad was on the market for all of a month or so, but in that short time, it earned many good reviews for its enterprise-friendly features, such as built-in encryption. In a July review of eight tablet PCs in Government Computer News, John Breeden II said the TouchPad “may be the best choice overall for government users.” That explains why Breeden took HP’s decision to pull the plug on the TouchPad as bad news for enterprise IT shops trying to make tablets safe for government use. Consumer-oriented reviewers had much less praise for the TouchPad, but other reviewers who care about enterprise IT also gave it high marks.
  • Don't wait around for another winner to emerge. Market analysts are mostly viewing the TouchPad fire-sale frenzy as hurting the sales prospects for every tablet maker not named Apple. They reason that if buyers have to spend $400 or $500 on a tablet with a future, then why not make it an Apple iPad, the undisputed category champion? Agency IT officials who want get in on the tablet revolution right away but don’t like the market's uncertainty or the messiness of supporting multiple platforms might just want to bite the bullet and embrace the iPad.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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