HP’s TouchPad – A lesson in why niche & proprietary doesn’t work for the masses

Q: What happens when you combine a mediocre proprietary OS that no one uses with a mediocre tablet device that no one wants?

A: You get the HP TouchPad.

Business Insider is reporting today Best Buy, who bought 270,000 of these things is still sitting on over 200,000 of them (even after a hefty price drop) and now wants HP to take them back. Other mega-electronics retailers like Walmart and Fry’s are of a similar opinion.

Meanwhile, over in the rest of tabletland, iPads and Android tablets continue to fly off the shelves…

I’m not going to claim that I’m super insightful, but I knew from the moment HP announced the TouchPad that it was an albatross (the dead kind that hangs around your neck like a curse, not the good luck kind that follows your ship).

Why? Oh, several reasons:

  1. An operating system that nobody wanted or needed
    Yeah, sure, HP paid $1.2B for WebOS and it is pretty to look at, but, let’s face it, it’s the CW Network of operating systems. If the (lack of) success of the Palm Pre, Pre 2 and HP Pre 3 didn’t tell you that, then you’re blind.
  2. Chunky, lackluster hardware
    The TouchPad sits on retail shelves right next to leaner, sleaker products like the iPad and Galaxy Tab. Why would any consumer want something bulkier and heavier that costs the same amount but does less?
  3. Apps, apps, apps
    Speaking of “does less”, let’s face it, the best app on the TouchPad is the calculator. The rest are “me too” versions of Facebook, Twitter, blah, blah, blah. If a consumer is going to throw down $500 (more with taxes) for your product, it better do a lot more than the one sitting right next to it on the shelf.
  4. No Caché (not cache)
    I know HP is legendary in calculators, printers and *nix circles, but honestly, when I see an HP logo on a laptop or PC all I think is “cheap”. Nothing wrong with that because cheaper is gooder — as long as it does the same thing more expensive stuff does… which the TouchPad doesn’t. I don’t know what HP’s brand managers think the company logo is worth in consumer circles, but it’s not the same as Apple’s. HP’s price has to be lower. Significantly lower.

All this having been said, I fully believe that HP can make a triumphant return to the tablet scene in a couple of years.

“Apps” really aren’t all that big of a deal, they’re just a way for the hardware manufacturer to get a cut of the software profits. As software developers get tired of tithing 30% of their sales to the iTunes/Market gods, most of them will replace it with a straight web-based delivery. I bet it happens within the next couple of years. (See Amazon’s Cloud Reader as an example.)

But right now, the world is very “app based” — meaning that people prefer to turn to iTunes or Android Market for new stuff for their tablet. Once that “app-dispenser” filter falls apart, HP has an opportunity to step in with an inexpensive tablet device that holds a lot of consumer appeal.

It’s just that time isn’t now, and it’s certainly not based on some odd-ball OS that nobody wants to support. HP should take the hit, learn its lesson and come back bigger and stronger in a year or so.

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