Did webOS Doom HP's TouchPad? Can Anyone Take on iPad?

Jennifer LeClaire, <a href='http://www.newsfactor.com'>newsfactor.com</a>

Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad is dead and gone. Touted as an iPad-killer before it came to market complete with the webOS HP acquired from Palm, the TouchPad's product cycle was much shorter than HP had hoped -- seven weeks to be exact. Now, the industry is exploring the lessons to be learned from the failure.

At the heart of the hope was the webOS. When the device made its debut in June, Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple exec and the brains behind webOS, said the operating system would help differentiate HP's products, starting with something the iPad couldn't offer: true multitasking. It wasn't enough to overcome the Apple machine, though.

Pointing to poor sales (an understatement), HP put the kibosh on the TouchPad. Then a fire sale ensued. In August, the devices started selling for $99. At that price, they flew off the shelves, so HP decided to make more and sell them for $149 -- with a catch. Consumers also had to buy an HP or Compaq notebook or desktop PC. Otherwise, the price of the device climbed back up to $599.

WebOS Too Slow for Success?

A New York Times article started the latest round of speculation about the TouchPad's failure and what it means for the industry. In it, reporter Brian X. Chen suggests that webOS turned out to be toxic and pointed to several former Palm and HP employees saying the OS was deeply flawed. The article also asserts that the webOS story illustrates how hard it will be for anyone to mount a serious challenge to Apple and Google on the mobile operating system front.

"The most interesting part of The New York Times' expose was the assertion that webOS could never have been successful because it was not architected to be fast enough to be competitive," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "I can't comment on that. I can say that the way the TouchPad works is pretty slow and that every webOS phone from the original Pre straight on to the Pre 3 prototype that I played with also had some issues with lag. That said, so do some Android phones."

Although no tablet-maker has mounted a serious challenge against Apple, Greengart points to Amazon's Kindle Fire as a competitor that is demonstrating a new way to tackle the market: a business model that subsidizes the device in hopes that consumers will buy content.

The Real Problem(s) with TouchPad

"There are a lot of questions around the tablet market and how someone can compete, but I don't think the lesson from HP is that it's simply impossible to compete with the iPad. There are so many things that went wrong with that product and that company last year that it's hard to pinpoint one specific factor," Greengart said.

Although some assert performance was the key issue, Greengart also noted a form factor that was thicker and heavier than the iPad -- and cost the same amount of money -- as another contributor to the TouchPad's failure. He also cited product launch issues.

"When the TouchPad launched, it didn't work. It took another month before they released the software that should have been available at launch. So either they were incompetent at the product launch or they rushed it," Greengart said. "Literally, though, when I turned on the TouchPad for the first time there was no help system. How did it go through QA? Was there QA? A month later all those problems were fixed and a week or two later they canceled the project."