Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad may soon reside in history's dustbin of dead technology, but the webOS-powered tablet can mark at least one small victory before it plunges forever into that abyss: According to research firm The NPD Group, the ill-fated device managed to rank as the second-highest-selling tablet in the United States this year, trailing Apple's iPad but just ahead of Samsung's Galaxy Tab franchise.
The TouchPad was helped by an August fire sale, as HP slashed prices to clear out inventories of the defunct tablet. Best Buy and other retailers slashed the price of the 16GB model from $399 to $99, and that of the 32GB from $499 to $149. As thousands of people rushed to stores and online to snatch up a high-end device at a steal, that hunger drove HP to announce it would initiate one last, limited production run.
HP had previously expressed high hopes for webOS, which it inherited as part of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010. Within six weeks of the TouchPad's July 1 release in the United States, however, anemic sales led then-CEO Leo Apotheker to order the product line terminated with extreme prejudice. Current CEO Meg Whitman is still pondering whether to sell, license or keep webOS in-house.
Overall, consumers in the United States snatched up some 1.2 million non-iPad tablets from January through October, according to The NPD Group's data. Collectively, those tablets generated an estimated $415 million at retail, with accessories bringing that total to around $700 million.
To put that in perspective, Apple sold some 11.12 million iPads in its fiscal 2011 fourth quarter, a 166 percent unit increase over the same quarter in 2010. During an Oct. 18 earnings call to discuss those numbers, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that some 92 percent of the Fortune 500 were testing or deploying the iPad, suggesting the depth of the device's penetration beyond the consumer realm.
Nonetheless, The NPD Group sensed some hunger for non-iPad tablets.
"According to NPD's Consumer Tracking Service, 76 percent of consumers who purchased a non-Apple tablet didn't even consider the iPad," Stephen Baker, the firm's vice president of industry analysis, wrote in a Nov. 22 research note, "an indication that a large group of consumers are looking for alternatives, and an opportunity for the rest of the market to grow their business."
In the firm's estimation, HP held 17 percent share of U.S. tablet brands, followed by Samsung at 16 percent, Asus at 10 percent, and Motorola and Acer at 9 percent.