Why HP's withdrawal from tablet market should tick you off

Hewlett-Packard's unfortunate decisions caused the death-on-arrival of a tablet that could have been a great enterprise tool, says John Breeden, director of the GCN Lab.

I won’t tell you how much wrangling it took for the GCN Lab to get an HP TouchPad in to review for our upcoming October issue. Normally, getting review copies is not a problem, but this summer Hewlett-Packard was treating those little devices like gold bricks. Finally, the company relented and sent one over so we could kick the tires.

And wow, were we impressed. I was kind of a naysayer when HP bought Palm and that company’s WebOS, but the TouchPad showed that they were putting WebOS, with its inherent security and enterprise features, to good use. That’s something that feds would find very attractive.

In fact, in our recent mini-roundup of tablets for government, the TouchPad got one of the highest overall scores. If I were a fed, I would really want a TouchPad or possibly a Research in Motion PlayBook over almost any other tablet on the market, and especially over an Apple iPad, which is great for consumers but much less so when used as a true enterprise client at government agencies.

Backed with what I thought was a great marketing campaign featuring Manny Pacquiao and Russell Brand, the TouchPad seemed to be riding high. Then we got the surprising announcement that HP was killing the product, and would create no more of them. In fact, HP is dumping tablets altogether, and possibility even PCs as well.

I honestly don’t think this has anything to do with the quality of the TouchPad. In fact, people are almost getting into fistfights to snatch up the last few in stores, at deep discounts.

No, the TouchPad was doomed before it even hit the market. This fiasco is a classic example of a huge company that is unable to stop and change momentum on a dime — or even on a billion dollars, as is evident in this case.

There were lots of people at HP who probably worked very hard to make the TouchPad a success, but there were also a lot of executives who knew what the endgame would be and let this all happen anyway. The top folks at HP had to know they were going to dump tablets and possibly even PCs, following a trail blazed by their arch-nemesis IBM a few years ago, to try and remain relevant in the market.

HP’s claim that it captured only 1 percent of the tablet market and was thus forced to come to this decision is a straw man if I’ve ever burned one. How much market did they think they could steal away from Apple (mostly) and others in a single month with any product?

No, this is just the endgame of mistake after mistake by HP. They bought Palm for $1.8 billion dollars, and the main thing they wanted to get from that deal was WebOS. Then they go and make something pretty darn good, the TouchPad, with that OS at its heart. Then they throw all that money away and kill a good product with a great OS before the world can really learn that it’s actually as elegant as it is useful.

And what happens to WebOS? I’ve read reports that claim HP may try to sell it to car manufacturers, but I have my doubts. Besides the fact that the Android folks are attempting to do the same thing, I’m not so sure people really want or need a tablet OS in their cars to turn on the air conditioning or radio. It’s sad, but my guess is that HP bought a $1.8 billion dollar program that it may just throw away.

Knowing what I do now, I have to wonder if all the problems we had getting a TouchPad in for review had to do with HP’s internal politics going on behind the scenes. I think we will still run our review of the TouchPad in our October issue, but it will be more of a what-might-have-been piece.

Feds should be mad as hell that they are going to be denied the TouchPad because it might have been a pretty darn great tablet rather than the tombstone it’s become.