By Harry McCracken | Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm
I’ll have lots more to say about the stunning news that HP is killing the TouchPad after two months and killing WebOS phones. But for now, how about some poignant quotes?
Me, in “HP Buys Palm: The Optimist’s View” (April 2010):
HP might be able to take WebOS places that Palm couldn’t. After the Foleo fiasco, Palm quite reasonably chose to stick to its smartphone knitting. As a much larger, more prosperous company, HP might reasonably decide to put WebOS on slates or set-top boxes or other devices that Palm would likely have avoided.
A Palm without a little cloud over its head is a good thing. With the era of uncertainty over the company’s viability over, retailers may be more excited about stocking Palm products, and consumers may be more confident about buying them.
HP’s Jon Rubinstein, in a memo to HP employees six weeks ago:
Today we bring the HP TouchPad and webOS 3.0 to the world. The HP team has achieved something extraordinary – especially when you consider that it’s been just one year since our work on the TouchPad began in earnest. Today also marks the start of a new era for HP as our vision for connected mobility begins to take form – an ecosystem of services, applications and devices connected seamlessly by webOS.
If you’ve seen the recent TouchPad reviews you know that the industry understands HP’s vision and sees the same potential in webOS as we do. David Pogue from the New York Times says “there are signs of greatness here.” (I’ve included links to David’s review and others below.) You’ve also seen that reviewers rightly note things we need to improve about the webOS experience. The good news is that most of the issues they cite are already known to us and will be addressed in short order by over-the-air software and app catalog updates. We still have work to do to make webOS the platform we know it can be, but remember…..it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
In that spirit, Richard Kerris, head of worldwide developer relations for webOS, reminded me yesterday of the first reviews for a product introduced a little over ten years ago:
“…overall the software is sluggish”
“…there are no quality apps to use, so it won’t last”
“…it’s just not making sense….”
It’s hard to believe these statements described MacOS X – a platform that would go on to change the landscape of Silicon Valley in ways that no one could have imagined.
The similarities to our situation are obvious, but there’s also a big difference. Like David Pogue, our audiences get that webOS has the potential for greatness. And like me, they know that your hard work and passion, and the power of HP’s commitment to webOS, will turn that potential into the real thing.
I like competition and I like the TouchPad’s WebOS software, so I’m rooting for some incarnation of HP’s product to be a winner that sells well. But it’s not the least bit startling to see it get off to a slow start. The first reviews of the TouchPad–here’s mine–were pretty much unanimously lukewarm at best, pointing out bugs, performance issues, and a general lack of apps. Even if you were intrigued by the TouchPad, the reviews would leave you thinking that it made sense to wait rather than rush out and buy one.
And in environments where the TouchPad competes head-to-head with the iPad 2–like Best Buy–the first impression it gives isn’t helpful: it’s chunkier and heavier. If you bought a particular tablet purely because it was somewhat thinner and somewhat lighter than another model, you’d be making a pretty superficial purchasing decision. But it’s not as if general svelteness is the sole reason to learn towards the iPad.
The TouchPad has some points in its favor. Its WebOS software has some very nice features, like Just Type and Synergy. The interface is generally pleasing. But this is the sort of stuff that’s hard to suss out at an store. And even if you’re impressed by it, it wouldn’t be the least bit nutty to opt instead for the tablet with all the apps.
So let’s just say it: there’s another scenario here. It’s a little like the one that transpired with the iPod: one in which the iPad dominates indefinitely and every competitor squabbles over one tiny piece of the market-share pie. I still don’t predict that. But the longer it takes for Apple’s competitors to come up with products that are plausibly superior to the iPad in ways that matter to meaningful numbers of people, the less sensible it is to rule it out.
And for now, there’s really no such thing as a “tablet market.”