Duncan Bell: What the HP TouchPad has taught us

T3 columnist gives his view on this month's hot topic

T3's operations editor, resident podcaster and T3 magazine columnist Duncan Bell reveals what the tech world could learn from the demise of the HP TouchPad and its recent £90 giveaway

As someone who likes to be proved right, the death of the HP TouchPad has been a godsend. The riots in Hackney, which is what this column was originally going to be about, have caused a lot of my more smug chums from that part of the world to stop banging on about how fast their house values are shooting up – apt phrase that, for Hackney, “shooting up”.

HP’s move could be said to show how, in the tech world, situations change with the speed of a man sprinting out of Comet with a plasma screen under his arm. I’d say that its decision to get out of the murderously low-margin world of hardware wasn’t a shock at all.

HP has, for years, put out very dull devices that work well but which nobody particularly craves. Generally, these have been printers, and the type of laptops that your IT department likes to inflict upon you. Then, like a middle-aged accountant who suddenly starts weeping at work, before quitting to form a rock band and experiment with bisexuality, HP decided it was going to make a tablet.

A lot of tech bloggers/commentators/whatever got very excited about this, as it was going to use Palm’s webOS. Android tablets somehow hadn’t quite put a dent in iPad sales, but surely this was going to do it. Wasn’t it?

Well, let’s step back and examine that thought for a second, shall we? Here was an operating system that had failed commercially in its first incarnation, in Palm phones, being used in a piece of hardware that looked like an Etch-A-Sketch. And here’s the real killer: it was priced exactly the same as Apple’s iPad 2.

The fact is, that for most punters, whether tech-savvy or “casual”, tablet choice is a nobrainer. They walk in to a store or log on, and are confronted by the runaway market leader with bajillions of apps they’ve used or read about, and a bunch of similar-looking devices, including one – the TouchPad – that has about three apps, at the same price. Some choice.

As a result, the TouchPad sold in the hundreds. You could almost say that HP couldn’t give them away, but a price-plummet to £90 proved that, in fact, they could.

This story has a good ending, then. A lot of punters get a cheap tablet – and look out for even cheaper ones as unimaginative impulse buyers flood eBay with them in a few months – webOS lives on, for people on tech blogs (and absolutely nowhere else in the universe, anywhere) to frot over, and HP can get back to what it does best: something unfathomably dull to do with business. Happy days.

You can hear more from Duncan Bell on the T3 Podcast each week, which is available here and via Apple iTunes