By Harry McCracken | Friday, August 5, 2011 at 11:43 am
First, HP introduced its TouchPad tablet at the same starting price as Apple’s iPad: $499. Then it introduced a $50 instant rebate, bringing the price down to $449. Then it announced a special $100 instant rebate this weekend, bringing the price down to $399.
And now WebOSRoundup says that Staples has a $100 coupon that you can use and still qualify for the instant rebate–letting you snag a 16GB TouchPad for $299, or a 40 percent discount off the original price.
That’s one way of answering the question “Why should anyone buy the HP TouchPad instead of the iPad”–give the TouchPad a much more aggressive price. The TouchPad may theoretically be going back to $499, but in the world of tech, there’s almost no such thing as once-in-a-lifetime deals: if a $299 TouchPad is available today, it probably means that all 16GB TouchPads will go for $299 sooner or later. Probably sooner. And while it might help move tablets, it presumably isn’t a sign that HP is thrilled with how well the TouchPad is selling at $499.
So does a $299 TouchPad change the game? A little bit, yes. It wouldn’t turn a crummy tablet into a fabulous deal. It doesn’t make the TouchPad, which isn’t crummy but does have its issues, into a better buy than a $499 iPad 2. But you might reasonably overlook some of the $299 TouchPad’s downsides–the fact that it’s thicker and heavier than the iPad, for instance. You might even be a tad less fussy about the overall level of polish. (The WebOS update that HP released this week has gotten mixed reviews; I need to use it more to form my own opinion.)
Really, though, anyone who buys a TouchPad is buying into the device’s promise–which remains considerable–as much as its present. (That’s fine: I’ve made purchases like that myself.) A year from now, the TouchPad and WebOS are either going to be doing better than most people expected or are going to look disappointing; there’s no state of neutrality when you’re competing against the Apple juggernaut (and Android, too). A low price could help if it entices more people to buy TouchPads, and that leads to more software developers deciding to build apps. But in the tablet battle, I think that good is going to be a far more potent weapon than cheap.
So are any of you going to head to Staples this weekend?