HP's TouchPad Could Have Benefited From Tweaked webOS, Apps

 
 
By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2012-01-03 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

HP's TouchPad and webOS suffered from structural issues, according to a new report in The New York Times. But could HP have prevented the TouchPad's collapse?

The blame for the demise of Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad tablet can be placed with several parties, according to an article in The New York Times Jan. 1.

The article assigns blame to several parties for the demise of Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad tablet. After that product crashed and burned in the marketplace, HP abandoned its plans to use its webOS software platform as a proprietary operating system for a range of branded devices, instead releasing it as an open-source project.

HP had inherited webOS as part of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010. "Several former Palm and HP employees involved in webOS say there was little hope for the software from the beginning," reads a portion of The Times article, "because the way it was built was so deeply flawed."

Paul Mercer, a former Palm executive, is paraphrased as blaming at least some of webOS' difficulties on its use of WebKit technology for its core, and the corresponding slowness of applications relative to those on the iPhone. Another unnamed employee indicated that Palm lacked the employees to sufficiently improve webOS following its release.   

Following its acquisition by HP, a handful of vital Palm executives left to join other companies, further affecting webOS' development. Within six weeks of the TouchPad's launch, then-CEO Leo Apotheker made the decision to terminate the project, although significant price cuts-designed to clear inventory-ensured the tablet ended up selling out, after all. 

Could HP have averted disaster? If you subscribe to The Times account, much would have depended on Palm and HP's ability to release a version of webOS capable of battling it out toe-to-toe with Apple's iOS. In other words, initial decisions trickled down to kill the TouchPad along with HP's broader hopes of creating a product ecosystem based on its own proprietary software.

But the consumer frenzy following the TouchPad's price cut suggests that, if nothing else, the product could have survived longer on the open market if HP had taken a more strategic approach to rollout and marketing, and figured out ways to undercut the iPad rather than try to battle Apple toe-to-toe at a similar price point. With its software issues and lack of apps, the decision to promote the TouchPad as an iOS equivalent clearly doomed the project out of the proverbial gate.

If HP had sold the TouchPad at a margin-killing but competitive rate, and then threw enough engineers at the project to ensure a robust and rapid series of software upgrades-or even better, simply held off releasing the tablet until the software and app ecosystem were in stronger shape-that still might not have guaranteed its eventual success. After all, other tablets have languished on the marketplace, still unloved by consumers and businesses even after upgrades. But if HP had taken those steps, there's a higher likelihood that the TouchPad would be alive today.   

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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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