How HP Can Save Its Doomed TouchPad Tablet

The TouchPad’s lack of apps means the tablet is no iPad killer -- unless HP makes one essential strategic move.


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Posted February 9, 2011

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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HP launched a competitor to the Apple iPad today, called the HP TouchPad. It’s breathtakingly awesome.

Too bad it will fail – unless, that is, HP does something extraordinary. More on that below.

The device, which goes on sale this summer at a yet-undisclosed price, is about the same size and weight as the iPad, and with the same screen resolution. Like the iPad, it's got a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass, and either 16 or 32 GB of storage space (the iPad also offers 64 GB of storage). The TouchPad supports Wi-Fi.

The TouchPad is similar to the iPad only on the surface. There are plenty of differences to separate HP's new tablet from Apple's old one.

Most importantly, the HP TouchPad runs WebOS, the Linux-based operating system developed by Palm. HP acquired the company -- and the OS -- in April, 2010. The WebOS sports an innovative MPG (multi-touch, physics and gestures) interface. The WebOS proved popular when it shipped in the Palm Pre smart phone, which first shipped in June of 2009.

The WebOS interface is vastly superior to the multi-touch interface of all known Android devices, and is the only mobile MPG device in the same class of sophistication as Apple's iOS. On the Pre, it was nice. On a tablet -- forget about it. The WebOS is going to be great on the TouchPad.

Beyond the underlying operating system and great user interface, the TouchPad offers some key software advantages. It supports Adobe Flash, for example.

The TouchPad also has a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for videoconferencing.

Another key difference is raw compute power. The TouchPad is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon CPU.

HP has also conspicuously linked devices for Palm fans. For example, the company says that if you have a WebOS phone, you can answer calls and texts on the tablet. You can transfer a URL from one device to the other by tapping them together.

In a nutshell, the TouchPad is awesome, and has a whole bunch of really cool features.

Why the TouchPad Will Probably Fail

If you recall, I accurately predicted the Palm Pre's failure in the market a month before it shipped. Although its WebOS interface was incredible, Palm unwisely chose to thrill the tiny minority of power users, instead of the large minority of business users or the huge majority of consumer users.

Applying the same reasoning to the TouchPad, the future looks similarly bleak for HP’s new tablet.

Like the Pre, the TouchPad is an awesome device in search of a big market. The initial implementation of the TouchPad is for consumers. Which is great, except the device lacks the one thing absolutely necessary to compete in this space: apps.

Sure, there is a smattering of left-over Palm Pre apps available for TouchPad users. And I'm sure HP is doing all it can to motivate developers to support the platform.

Unfortunately, it's too late.

The iPad, and to a lesser extent Android, have left everyone else in the dust on the quantity and quality of consumer apps. Apple has a gigantic first-mover advantage that even Android will have trouble overcoming with it's impressive new Honeycomb version, which is the first made just for tablets.

If HP hopes to earn a spot even in the same hemisphere as Apple in apps, well, it can forget it. The company hasn't got a prayer.

How to Succeed: In Business!

HP has officially impressed the professional geeks in its big announcement this week. (The same lot that was completely wrong about the Palm Pre.) Now HP must get busy transforming the TouchPad into a business and enterprise tablet.

HP, of course, is up there with IBM as a major provider of business and enterprise systems and services. The company must now leverage its only advantage against Apple, which is business and enterprise computing dominance.

If HP can't shed its Carly Fiorina syndrome, its fantasies of becoming the new Sony, the company will suffer another embarrassing consumer electronics failure (like killing the Jornada in favor of the iPAQ, then killing the iPAQ with neglect).

I'll say it again: HP cannot beat or even approach Apple in the consumer space. Period. It's just not in the "cards."

HP can, however, fill the enormous, gaping, conspicuous and lucrative vacuum in business and enterprise touch tablets, which so far nobody has stepped forward to claim.

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Tags: android apps, iPad apps, apps, HP, tablet computers

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