As the avalanche of tablet computers materialized (at least 80 versions demonstrated at January’s Consumer Electronic Show), we expected a quick shake-out amongst the would-be iPad rivals. Yesterday we saw a very high-profile abandonment.
Hewlett-Packard said it will drop the WebOS-based TouchPad tablet, which it introduced in early July.
The quick decision to kill off the unpopular TouchPad coincided with HP’s announcement that it will pay $10.2 billion to acquire Autonomy, a British enterprise software developer, and indications from HP CEO Leo Apotheker that the company will sell off its entire personal computer business so that it can concentrate on software and services.
The 9.7-inch-screen TouchPad comes in $400 and $500 models and focuses heavily on entertainment/video consumption features. It has generated consumer complaints about poor performance and was savaged by tech reviewers, who focused largely on the Palm-created WebOS operating system, which HP sought to exploit after its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm last year. HP will also drop Pre smartphones and other WebOS products, further winnowing the mobile operating system battlefield. That’s good news for Google’s Android OS, especially on the heels of its Motorola Mobility acquisition plan, and it’s great for Microsoft, which still has hopes for its Windows Phone7 mobile operating system.
HP expects it will take at least a year to find a buyer for its PC business, which includes the Compaq product line it acquired for $25 billion in 2002. Its departure from the flagging desktop and laptop business will come as those product lines become less important in the new digital environment.
The quick decision to dump TouchPad underscores the challenges in the much-hyped tablet category. It is also a reminder that video applications and other services tied to tablet platforms are at risk during the coming shake-out in the tablet sector.
Over the decades, HP has attempted to venture into the cable modem/set-top business with its “Kayak” digital product, which was abandoned in the 1990s.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, MD, and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com