HP TouchPad: Lessons Learnt

While HP restrategises its use of WebOS, what can other companies learn from their product release and the 'demise' of the TouchPad in order to be strong players in the growing tablet market?

In July 2011, HP made an enthusiastic re-entry into the tablet market with its launch of the WebOS based Touchpad. Before this, the company’s purchase of rights to WebOS had created some buzz particularly among buyers of the Palm Pre smartphones who needed reasons to convince themselves they had made the right choice.

In fact, several blog articles and tech reviews clearly expected HP with WebOS in its arsenal to present some sort of challenge to Apple's dominance of the tablet market with the iPad. None of the Android OEMs had yet been able to capture the imagination of the masses with their various releases of Android based tablets. So the stage was indeed set for another strong player in the tablet PC market.

Fourty nine days after launch, with sales only in the lower tens of thousands, it was time for HP to announce it was halting the production of WebOS based tablet devices. Existing stock was heavily discounted and was quickly sold out.

Going by the current trend and state of the tablet computing market, it would appear as if Apple with the iPad has a stranglehold on the market. RIM with the BlackBerry PlayBook were not able to corner the market. On June 18 2012, Microsoft announced their entry into the market with the Windows Surface tablets – one running a stripped down, mobility and everyday consumer focused version of Windows 8 with the other presenting a full-on Windows 8 experience. Will Microsoft finally be the ones to break the tablet 'jinx'? Will they with Windows 8 do what the other operating systems have not been able to do to take the fight to the Apple camp?

Now that both versions of Windows Surface tablets are in the market and we all watch to see how much it will influence the market, here are two lessons that Microsoft and other companies can learn from the TouchPad in order to make a solid penetration into the tablet PC market.

  1. Embrace a unique design language

Looks can 'kill'. In this case, looks can cause the consumer to take a strong look at a product release and consider taking the plunge and part with their hard-earned money. Apple for instance unceasingly offers drool-worthy products. Apple products seamlessly promote looks in strong unison with functionality. From the discerning buyer’s perspective, this translates as, "Don't only tell me what the device can do. Let me see it as a perfect complement to my lifestyle and fashion sense." This design centric focus has to occur both at the hardware and software level. Not that the TouchPad was not a well designed product, it just didn't have that 'Wow I have not seen that anywhere else' thing going for it.

  1. Have a strong product family

Apple has repeatedly done it with iOS. The familiarity of the operating system and the product line make the transition easier for existing users to move from the iPhone or iPod Touch to the iPad. While Android has the same potential, the challenge to the buyer has been one of knowing which of the various Android partners and models to go with. Samsung has recorded better sales with the Galaxy Note series than it has with the Galaxy Tab series because of the mind share dominance that the iPad has on the tablet PC market. It appears easier to go with a cross between a smartphone and a tablet than it is to go with a non-iPad tablet. Windows is treading familiar lines with Apple by extending their product family beyond smartphones and tablets, all the way up to desktop PCs. However they stand the same risk of ‘customer choice overload' that Android on tablets has faced. Perhaps Microsoft had this in mind when they decided to build their own branded tablet computers.

As proven by the community of 'modders' around the HP TouchPad, there is a latent desire for something non-iPad. Indeed if the key tech players work their tablet strategies well enough, this race is far from over.

Author: Olawole Adebola

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