The HP TouchPad Fiasco from an Author's Perspective and Comments on the Industry as a Whole

Bill Loguidice's picture

Here's a famous quote that sums up the reaction to yesterday's surprise announcement by HP to stop supporting webOS, and, by extension, the TouchPad tablet, as well as get out of the PC business, courtesy of the classic 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!". We all knew that Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker was a software guy, we just didn't realize that meant he'd pull the rug out from under consumers and do a dramatic IBM-style business shift. At least we can still buy their printers, right? ... Anyone?

This affects me personally, because I was working on TouchPad For Dummies, which would have been my third book for 2011, to go along with the recently released, Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, and the upcoming, My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE. While these events are much bigger than me and others will be affected far more dramatically, I thought I would still give my personal impressions, starting first with a little background on the book stuff, some discussion of the TouchPad itself, and then get a bit more into an analysis of the present situation within the industry.

I started work on Motorola ATRIX For Dummies first, a book I co-authored with Dan Gookin. That had approximately a four week write cycle. Before that was done, my wife Christina and I got the deal to work on My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE, which we started work on as work on the ATRIX book was winding down. That was just over a two month write cycle. As author edits were in full swing on that book, Christina and I began work on TouchPad For Dummies, which had roughly a six to eight week write cycle. Though our initial going was slow, our production speed was just about to maximum levels and we ended up completing about 50% of the work literally right around the hour of HP's unfortunate and entirely unexpected announcement.

I really feel like a snake-bit author sometimes. I take great pride in the work that I do, and sometimes my output is slower than it should be because of it. As such delivery, the end result, is very important to me. As such, I really do pour my heart and soul into every project. I got my first book deal I think around 2006 or 2007, but that didn't work out in the end due to a combination of factors, a good portion of which was my own naivety to the organization and work required to get one of these things done. Vintage Games with Matt Barton followed, a book that I'm very happy with and among the last pure videogames books from a mainstream publisher. With that said, we weren't aware of the publisher's page count, so we ended up creating more chapters than could possibly fit in the book without realizing it. Those became our famous bonus chapters. The next book was Wii Fitness For Dummies with Christina, which originally was Wii Fit For Dummies until Nintendo announced that game's successor. We were at least 3/4's of the way through that version of the book when we essentially had to scrap it all and make it the three fitness game book that became Wii Fitness For Dummies. After that was the three book sequence I described for 2011. Motorola ATRIX For Dummies went very smoothly. As for My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE, again, bad timing for Christina and me with Microsoft's announcement of a major new update this fall, right after we started work. So, in addition to completing the book to this point, we'll have to do some major revisions to incorporate all the update stuff before the book is considered complete and ready for release the second time. Again, I'm very lucky to be doing what I do in my spare time, so no real complaints, but it does get frustrating when you do all that work and then have to do it all over again! And don't get me started on the documentary...

HP TouchPad screenshotHP TouchPad screenshot

So, with all that out of the way, what do I think of the TouchPad tablet itself? Prior to taking receipt of the TouchPad, my ownership experience with tablets started and ended with the iPad 2, which happened after a long time waiting for the Android side of the equation to never get its act together. For those who don't already know, the iPad 2 is thin, light and stable, giving competitive efforts some serious hurdles to overcome. Unfortunately, the TouchPad that HP released is the equivalent to the body type and styling of the iPad 1, which makes it seem downright clunky and outdated in comparison to the iPad 2. There were also strange omissions, like no rear-facing camera and no memory card slot or USB port, all signs of a product targeted to older competition. HP apparently wasn't nimble enough - or perhaps willing to invest the time and money - to rework their tablet prior to release. As for that release, it was months too late. If it hit a few months BEFORE the iPad 2 came out, it would have looked very attractive, particularly because the OS is so nice.

As for TouchPad's operating system, webOS, to me, that was always its trump card and what would enable it to succeed, NOT this first generation hardware that it ran on. The multi-tasking was elegant and effective, and the ability to flick and toss information and screens at will - particularly screens to close them - was inspired. In fact, I still find myself wanting to flick up on the bottom of my iPad 2's screen to close an app!

HP's announcement does not only effect their tablet strategy, but also their phone strategy. We kept hearing about how these webOS-based phones were coming "soon", but they clearly weren't ready, because "soon" is now never. Frankly even if they did see release a month or two back, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway in terms of the monumental lead Android and iOS smartphones have. Again, for this strategy to pay off for HP, they would have had to have gotten these products out early in 2011, if not sooner. Time was always working against them, and I think it's time that ultimately did them in. With that said, I still never expected HP to give up this early, and as an author of what would have been the first major book on the TouchPad, I'm disappointed HP didn't try to stick with it, because I thought that even with the delays they could have righted the ship (though likely never on the phone side).

I'm reading lots of demands on the Web from early adopters of the TouchPad who want their money back. Even though their TouchPads will continue to work and surely HP will continue to provide a minimal level of support for the product for a predetermined time period, they're absolutely right in their request. I agree that HP should do right by its customers and take the hit, at minimum either by giving some type of significant rebate back or other credit. Something, anything, but definitely dramatic. These were people who believed in webOS enough to take a chance on the product, even though few others seemed willing to. HP themselves talked big, big as in an entire webOS product line, including incorporation into their now-defunct-as-well PCs. As an act of goodwill, if HP wants to be taken seriously in the business software world, they have to find a way to at least pacify customers on the consumer side of the equation, even though outside of their printers, they've all but given up on them. How they act in the aftermath of blowing all this up I think will go a long way towards determining how smoothly their new path is paved.

I think there's a big lesson in all this, that if you want to compete in the tablet and smartphone space and you're not affiliated with Google or Apple, you're going to fail unless you have something DRAMATICALLY better to offer at launch. Now, as for competition in this space, all we really can take seriously are the aforementioned Google and Apple, as well as Microsoft, who themselves are right on the periphery of being too late to the game to make them a viable third option. By all accounts, Windows Phone 7 is great, but it's having a hard time gaining any traction. If Microsoft can leverage Nokia's expertise in the low end phone market while still maintaining proper compatibility with higher end Windows Phone 7 devices, I think they'll stand a chance. If Microsoft happens to purchase Rim and put the core Blackberry stuff on Windows Phone 7 to make it enterprise-friendly - really Rim's only remaining appeal - then I think they might be that truly viable third option we've been hoping for to keep the other two honest. With that said, Microsoft is going to be incredibly late to the next generation tablet game, and, outside of being an enterprise tablet, they're going to have an extraordinarily difficult time making an impact with consumers. At least there's a good chance Microsoft will stick with the strategy, and certainly Windows 8 itself, which will power the tablet experience as well as the more traditional computer formats, will not be going anywhere. Of course that also begs the question of why there are no forthcoming Windows Phone 7 tablets since that operating system would be ideal on a larger screen, but a strategy is a strategy (theirs being that tablets are still PCs), and at least Microsoft seems to have a semblance of one.

The big winner in all this continues to be Apple, who grows ever more powerful and profitable. They gambled correctly on what form the smartphone should take. They gambled correctly on what a tablet computer should be. Google is beating Apple in volume on the smartphone side and may be able to make at least an impact on the tablet side with the same strategy, but there's still no proof that it will work out the same. Maybe it really is an iPad market, not a tablet market. With that said, at least Google has horses in the race and they're clearly not going anywhere, which will surely count for something, particularly as they continue to mimick Apple's strategy. For instance, "ice cream sandwich" unifying smartphone and tablet operating systems the same way iOS unifies Apple's smartphone, tablets, and media players.

The rise of smartphones and tablets have not only affected the traditional mobile markets, but also has been quite disruptive in two other areas, one of which is rather unexpected. The first area is dedicated gaming handhelds like Nintendo's 3DS and Sony's upcoming Vita. We knew those were never going to reach the sales heights of their predecessors as there's too much competition from smartphones and tablets that can provide sufficiently compelling gaming experiences while doing all the other stuff those devices are best at. The second area is a bit more suprising and that's the impact on the PC market. We all know traditional form factors, like desktops and laptops, won't go away, but they certainly won't be the de facto options anymore. The writing is on the wall and now that smartphones and tablets are capable enough for most people's needs, the role of the traditional computer form factor becomes less important, and, eventually, unecessary. Intel's creation of the "ultrabook" spec and HP's dramatic exit from the low margin personal computer business are just two of many recent examples.

As for my next book project, there are some proposals under serious consideration, but I really don't know what will come to pass. Right now, I'm going to enjoy some much needed "fun time," and work with Christina on finishing off the Xbox 360 book once we have access to the updates.

Finally, I'd like to wish those HP workers who will be affected by this announcement all the best. We were in contact with some of the employees over there prior to and during the creation of the TouchPad book and they were class acts all the way. Good luck, guys!

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Shawn Delahunty
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Ouch.

Thanks for the information and detailed analysis Bill. I was stunned when I read the HP announcement, although I wasn't wholly surprised by the PC-biz portion of it. I sincerely hope that more writing projects quickly present themselves to replace the one HP just "nuked from orbit."

Thanks also for inspiring me. THREE books in 2011? Holy Mackerel. I need to get my ass in gear. (Yes, I'm writing in a more complex arena, Embedded Software and System Design methods and philosophy. Yes, I'm providing code examples and breakdowns and analysis. Yes, it's my first book. Still... I need to get my ass in gear.)

A couple of open-ended questions: What do you see as the "killer feature(s)" of the webOS? Will anyone else pick up the gauntlet? What did you see as the limitations of webOS in the first incarnation on the TouchPad?

Regards,

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Bill Loguidice
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bitsweep wrote:

Thanks for the information and detailed analysis Bill. I was stunned when I read the HP announcement, although I wasn't wholly surprised by the PC-biz portion of it. I sincerely hope that more writing projects quickly present themselves to replace the one HP just "nuked from orbit."

Thanks. This is in no way egotistical, but just based on my present understanding, let's just say I'm not concerned about more writing projects at this point. September could be very busy for us again. If not, I think two in 2011 is pretty good, because I only had one in 2009 and one in 2010, so it's still an improvement. It's also about all I can handle considering my responsibilities to my day job and family.

bitsweep wrote:

Thanks also for inspiring me. THREE books in 2011? Holy Mackerel. I need to get my ass in gear. (Yes, I'm writing in a more complex arena, Embedded Software and System Design methods and philosophy. Yes, I'm providing code examples and breakdowns and analysis. Yes, it's my first book. Still... I need to get my ass in gear.)

Definitely writing in a more complex area, but I think you'd be surprised about the amount of work that goes into even the more "casual" things. Take "My Xbox" for instance. That alone required WELL over 1,000 screen captures and photographs, most of which needed cropping and callouts. This was all in addition to trying to learn the house template ("Dummies" and "My" series books have VERY specific standards and styles), and it required far more man hours and effort from me and Christina than any other book we've ever worked on.

bitsweep wrote:

A couple of open-ended questions: What do you see as the "killer feature(s)" of the webOS? Will anyone else pick up the gauntlet? What did you see as the limitations of webOS in the first incarnation on the TouchPad?

Regards,

The best features of webOS were its capability to search everywhere and anywhere (Just Type), it's ability to consolidate many different sources of information into one (HP Synergy) and its true multi-tasking. Now that latter part is controversial because running multiple apps without background pauses DOES affect battery life, but it's still a nifty feature. I particularly loved the ability to close an app by flicking it off the screen. When I'm in the iPad 2, the apps don't close when I switch out, they just pause. It's a multi-step process if I want to close them.

The only major limitations with the first incarnation of the TouchPad were on the hardware side. Like I said, it was iPad 1 when it should have at least been iPad 1.5.

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clok1966
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I too had heard some

I too had heard some promising things on WebOS. and the book thing.. that surely is a blow for you. Im sure some other thing will come along, but work invested ... I am sorry.

From my little reading it seems APPLE may be the only (succesfull) tablet maker for some time. Ther are rumblings that market inst growing, not so much as for the competeing products... well to put it bluntly, dont compete, but even in APPLES camp there where some number thrown around that the Ipad2 buying frenzy caniblized over 50% of Ipad one users. SO many of the less then 2 year old original ipads ar doing nothing.. From Apples standpoint its great they liked the product so much they jumped on the 2 bandwagon.. but its the same people who bought the first one... And as the new one is so much better then the last the old ones are not being resold building new owners... and hence new people to upgrade. Last i read (over 2 months ago)on the tablet wars there where almost 36 that "compared" (i doubt it) to the ipad2 comming.. more than half are canceled, a common thing as designs come and go and newer models are pushed ahead.. but hardly any have replacment productes to replace them (comming soon!). It really looks like many companies are going to sit out a few rounds.. its to bad some of those neat ones in Japan (toshiba has some frikin awsome stuff) dont make it over here (of course many dont make it over there either).

With google buying Moto it sure seems they are going to push phones more.. and as Bill said shear numbers may win that war in the end.. as even AT&T the Iphone stronghold says sales of Android phones are better and growing faster thant he Iphone did.

To many companies now days dont do anything till sombody else succeds.. Im all piss and vinger over the Digital Donwloads stuff now.. And where video streaming is going. Its far to easy to take no risk and when somebody else succeds skip all the gambles and join in.. The Ipad is an Iphone but bigger (in many ways) .. the Iphone is a proven system its going to be close to impossible to make a dent in it.. A windows tablet could do some damage.. but MS ... BLOAT! you wont be running an MS OS on a static memory system.. Of course one could say MS did it already with the tabletop thing.. not portable but I do wonder if that fueled some Tablet fires to get them going.. and of course there whre many other in Asia.. We imported 2 tablets to see if our protable softere could run on them.. They where about like the APPLE air.. without the folding.. no where near as lite as he new stuff.. HD's touchscreens but a vry CLUNKY interface (tacked onto windows)...

Nope Apple owns the tablet market.. and will for 3- 4 more years I think.. but evnetally somethign better will come along, but will it matter by then? Much like NINTENDO was the name of gaming (no matter the system in the ealry 90s... Atarti was video gaming in the 80's.. Ipad is the name for tablets right now..) Android is its only compatition, and while I think it could compete, the tabletsso far with it sure dont make me want any over an Ipad yet..
The Xoom2 looks (i hate to say that as its been sadi about so many adroid tablets) interesting.. but will that go on now? Moto is now googles?
The more I think about it.. anything with so much a head start is hard to beat especially if the company is "really" trying to improve its prodcut and not just sit on its ass .. and APPLE does it in spades.. maybe not every new version.. Iphone 5? no, iphone 4.2 :) In the end they may just be the only tablet on the block.

Rowdy Rob
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Sad news, Bill.

I've never followed HP products that much, although I have at least three HP printer/scanner/fax machines in my house. I haven't followed the whole Touchpad/WebOS thing at all. So the news doesn't really move me one way or another.

I'm more sad that it affects your book project, though. What a blow.... I feel your pain. I'm very sorry that the rug was suddenly pulled out from under you.

On the other hand, I had no interest in the Atrix until I read your synopsis of what it is/does. Now THAT sounds like an exciting development, and portends to the future of computing, in my opinion. A portable device that is essentially an all-in-one computer to be carried with you at all times and used as a phone, GPS, games machine, etc.... and when you need it, docked to a keyboard/screen combo for "real" computing! That sounds like a MAJOR step forward, and is something we haven't really seen yet.

Arguably, the iPad (maybe the iPhone?) is already there to some degree, but I think the Atrix is the shape of the future! I dunno about the Touchpad, which is/was apparently a "me too" competitor to the iPad, and was perhaps destined for failure/irrelevance anyway. The Atrix looks to bring something new to the table.

I wonder how the purchase of Motorola by Google will affect the Atrix development and release? Will they kill it, change it, release it as is, or what?

By the way, what IS going on with the documentary? Is it dead? It's not even listed on the Lux website anymore. I hope you don't mind my asking.

Bill Loguidice
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Atrix and documentary
Rowdy Rob wrote:

On the other hand, I had no interest in the Atrix until I read your synopsis of what it is/does. Now THAT sounds like an exciting development, and portends to the future of computing, in my opinion. A portable device that is essentially an all-in-one computer to be carried with you at all times and used as a phone, GPS, games machine, etc.... and when you need it, docked to a keyboard/screen combo for "real" computing! That sounds like a MAJOR step forward, and is something we haven't really seen yet.

Arguably, the iPad (maybe the iPhone?) is already there to some degree, but I think the Atrix is the shape of the future! I dunno about the Touchpad, which is/was apparently a "me too" competitor to the iPad, and was perhaps destined for failure/irrelevance anyway. The Atrix looks to bring something new to the table.

I wonder how the purchase of Motorola by Google will affect the Atrix development and release? Will they kill it, change it, release it as is, or what?

By the way, what IS going on with the documentary? Is it dead? It's not even listed on the Lux website anymore. I hope you don't mind my asking.

The Atrix has been out since earlier this year. In fact, yesterday was the last day of a big sale on it, I think only $30-something with a 2 year contract and discounts on the dock. That sale is over now, though. It's a great phone if you want an Android phone, though the computer part of it could be better. Still, it definitely is reflective of what we'll eventually see in the future, as you say. We're undeniably headed in that direction.

I honestly don't know what's going on with the documentary. Another editor was supposed to be working on it, but Matt and I haven't heard anything in a while. I'll assume nothing is doing with it until I hear otherwise. Disappointing, but what can you do. It was nothing we did, it was just lack of budget mostly and motivated editors. We'll see.

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Bill Loguidice
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It looks like HP small

It looks like HP small business is selling the 16GB TouchPad for $99 and the 32GB for $149, and it may go wide at that price tomorrow. If you'd like a good Kindle reader or a tablet with a few hundred available apps, it's definitely worth it at those prices. Plus, the homebrew community has taken up the cause if/when HP does away with the official app store.

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Chris Kennedy
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HP

I am not an Apple guy. I don't see myself ever being an Apple guy. I don't agree with...many things about them, and this is not where I should list those things.

I wanted a tablet. Wanted one badly. The iPad was released, and the worldwide craze had begun. It was innovative, but it wasn't something that hadn't already been thought of and executed before. I turned to the other companies and said, "OK. Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, what can you guys produce."

A year flies by, and companies are fumbling out tablets. They can't match price for the features, and Apple continues to win. Some companies (...HP) don't even have their tablet out before Apple announces AND releases the iPad 2. That was when I jumped in. "Guys - I gave you a year. What happened?"

So here I am with an iOS phone and iOS tablet. I stand waiting to see how the TouchPad makes its mark - what will the competition be, and how will it trump Apple? Making something less than the iPad, charging $100+ more and simply saying "it does Flash" (like other companies) doesn't cut it.

Now here we are with this situation. I am sorry, Bill, that this happened. I still stand with my arms in the air and an expression of "how tough can this be??" on my face.

But on an odd positive note - From a gaming perspective...what if Apple ruled? What if the latest generation of dedicated gaming handhelds fails terribly and 2012 brings Mario to iOS?

It would be the closest thing I have ever seen to a one console future - except it would be a "one" handheld future.

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Bill Loguidice
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I agree 100% Chris. I pretty

I agree 100% Chris. I pretty much publicly went on the same quest here on Armchair Arcade for a tablet alternative to the iPad so I wouldn't be on iOS on both my phone and tablet. By the time the iPad 2 hit, there was still nothing worthwhile and there was no longer any reason to keep waiting. Apple has become masterful with hardware design and execution under the second tenure of Jobs and they've started to combine that with control over the components to also make it difficult for anyone else to match them, let alone beat them (other examples besides the iPad 2 are competitive difficulties in matching the performance/price/form factor of the latest Air's).

As I stated on Twitter, the mass and very, very rapid sell-outs prove that the HP TouchPad's main issue was price. Hopefully future non-iPad tablets will finally get the hint. If HP was truly serious about being a competitor - and it genuinely had the potential to be a solid number 2 in the tablet space - they would have released the TouchPad at a MUCH lower price and it clearly would have sold. Perhaps $99 and $149 is rather too low, but clearly $199 and $249 would have sold out all their units. A company the size of HP could have taken the loss on each unit to gain market share, and it would have been high enough to avoid charges of dumping.

The way I see it, Android tablets have finally gotten compelling, but there are still a few quirks here and there to make you think twice, let alone the fact that there are not enough tablet-specific apps. Unifying the Android OS on both the phone side and the tablet side via Ice Cream Sandwich will surely help that. Again, though, there has to be a reason to choose one of those over Apple and the iPad. In some cases just disliking Apple is enough for people, but frankly, operating like that is foolish in my opinion. I'll go for the best option for me, period, regardless of my bias towards the company.

I do like options and I'm glad that no matter how cool the Apple stuff is, I'll almost certainly never have one as my primary computer since I like all that a pure Windows computer can provide me (not to mention very particular configuration options). If I need a pure laptop though, I may consider an Air if the Ultrabook initiative doesn't take off. Apple slowly creeps...

I'm intrigued by the potential for Windows 8. Certainly it will be intriguing on the desktop, but I'm curious how it works on an actual tablet. Will it be the usual bloated mess shoehorned on the form factor or will Microsoft have finally cracked that nut? If they're able to do that and in turn penetrate the enterprise, at least we'll have a viable third option in tablets, because right now there's two, and that's not much fun. Same thing in the phone market, we may be down to just two sooner rather than later unless Microsoft can make their move in 2012, and a dramatic move at that.

Hopefully both the phone and tablet markets can be like the console markets and support three different options. It seems like it's always three or two with these things, and in tablets we're at the two for now, with very slow jostling for the third spot in phones, with RIM headed in the wrong direction and Microsoft getting ready to strike from way, way back. By the end of 2012, things will be much, much clearer.

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Bill Loguidice
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So I was able to buy two of

So I was able to buy two of the 32gb models from the HP small business site. You just have to keep refreshing through the errors. No 16gb models are in stock.

There are reports that Best Buy stores have released their inventory as well.

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Matt Barton
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I read on one site that the

I read on one site that the best place to get them is the local Wal-Mart, though you should call ahead to see if any are left in stock.

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