- “Let’s say you were given a year to kill Hewlett-Packard.” — This pretty much sums up everything wrong with HP. The McDonald’s analogy is perfect.
So, we’ve had more than a week to play around with our HP Touchpads now, and the end result is I’m even angrier than I was before about HP destroying Palm. The Touchpad, while by no means perfect, is still a really cool little device. It does most of the things we expect of it. It’s nicely designed. It’s fun to use. It shows… Promise.
In the past few days I’ve spent a lot of time browsing on it. I’ve cleared through email, edited Word and Excel documents, played Angry Birds with Mathias, watched movies, and caught up on my YouTube subscriptions. The Touchpad has handled all of those tasks extremely well, too the point that the lapsed web developer in me started wondering if I could write apps for this thing. (I installed Homebrew, started reading some of the developer documentation, and then told myself to stop. Because, you know, I probably have better things to do than write applications for a dying platform.) Importing movies from DVD was a pain in the ass to figure out, likely because HP didn’t want to make it easy (“Use the HP Movie Store!”), but now that I know how to do it, it’s a snap. Doing so can allow the special, if somewhat melancholy, irony of watching Pixar movies on a Touchpad.
Many of the common criticisms of the Touchpad are valid. It can be a bit laggy at times. The number of apps available is pretty small, and the quality of those apps sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. But it’s just good enough, in that unique HP way, that one could image how it could be perfect with a few tweaks. HP seems to have a gift for coming up with great ideas and classy designs, only to cheap out on the build or materials, or push out the product before it’s fully baked. The Touchpad is a case example of trying to swing for the fences, but doing so with a wiffle bat, because, you know, plastic is cheaper than wood.
It’s a true clutching failure from the jaws of victory kind of situation. With a better build quality, a moderately lower price than the iPad, and a clear Microsoft-style commitment to the platform (to encourage app developers), HP could have had a competitor on its hands. It could have started off as the Hyundai Genesis of the tablet world—not the leader, but a legitimate competitor that forces people to take the product and the platform seriously. Instead they put out an Elantra—a fine, car, sure—and priced it like a Mercedes. The results were completely predictable.
Maybe Léo Apotheker has some of his friends and relatives short-selling HP stock. That seems as reasonable of an explanation for this fiasco as any.
It’s been a crazy and somewhat depressing week for fans of the former Palm and WebOS. I was going to give my thoughts as to the real reasons WebOS is being killed, but Gruber pretty much covered that. A related PreCentral thread summed it up even more succinctly:
If Mark Hurd didn’t like dining with escorts and expensing it, WebOS would still be alive.
Ok, labeling Jodie Fisher an “escort” may be a stretch, but philosophically speaking, that’s the nut of why the best non-Apple mobile operating system just bit the dust.
And, HP’s pleas to the contrary, WebOS’ future looks dim. With no new hardware coming out anytime in the near future—the Pre3, which is just starting to trickle out in Europe, is already a half year old at launch—and WebOS developers are clearly looking elsewhere. A new manufacturer deciding to use WebOS would be faced with a declining base of users and a moldering app ecosystem. It wouldn’t be the case of a new manufacturer taking over the ecosystem has much as being forced to reboot it.
Even the “reboot” would be unlikely, as HP is saying they don’t intend to sell WebOS, only license it. But who would it benefit to take up such a license at this point, after HP had done so much damage? If HP was serious about keeping WebOS alive and giving it a future, they would have had a licensing arrangement in place with a manufacturer before killing off their own hardware.
I don’t know what HP could have done to screw this up more than they already have, aside from maybe giving away the Touchpads while at the same time announcing they’d be turning off the App Catalog, the HP Movie Store and Synergy-related cloud services on September 1.
If I were a HP stockholder—and thank god I’m not—I’d look at what is happening right now as an intentional effort by HP to destroy shareholder value. They’re acting like a US version of RIM—an organization that is trying to bring the Crazy, and trying to bring it in a big way. There is an almost active disregard of their user base here, but they probably don’t care, as they see themselves as going full-enterprise. They looked at their WebOS users, those-long suffering, exceedingly patient folks who loved and saw remarkable potential in the software, and told them to go jump off a cliff. Because, you know, they won’t need us anymore anyway once all they do is consulting and big iron.
I was one of those folks who spent a stupid amount of time over the weekend trying to get a $99 Touchpad, and it’s looks like we’re going to get one. We’re getting it for a pretty specific purpose, though—a mobile movie-watching device to keep our preschooler entertained while traveling—and are practical about the future of WebOS… Of which there is none.
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