HP’s WebOS TouchPad: Someone tell me what’s the differentiator?

imageI went through a couple passes on this TouchPad announcement and I’ll probably do some more research on this later but basically, in a phrase:  I’m very skeptical.  It wasn’t as bad as Blackberry’s PlayBook mind you which appears to be a disaster and no one in the press seems to have figured that out yet, but frankly, the TouchPad doesn’t look terribly promising.

There’s not much here that demonstrably differentiates this device from the rest of the pack – iOS, Android, and yes, to a lesser extent, Windows. 

Bottom line:  Show me something that this device does that’s better than what might otherwise be done on iOS, Android, or Windows?  Now, is that capability ‘revolutionary’ enough to compel people to halt their iPad purchase?

Meanwhile HP is losing a huge source of marketing support by going with the non-Intel, non-Microsoft TouchPad. 

I have a philosophy – and I’ll bet you do too – that you need a killer feature to break out of the pack with any ‘secord-to-market’ product, especially when you’re a company like HP that’s “going it alone” against Android, iOS, and Windows-Anything without partners building their own devices & generating their own customer base’s interest in the platform.  (Remember:  This is a Palm/Qualcomm device.)  If you don’t have ubiquitous coverage to get the device to the people, you need to be able to compel the people to come to the device… and I don’t see that.

Remember HP’s going without co-marketing funds from Intel or Microsoft  – where, by the way, most of today’s advertising dollars comes from for OEMs like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, etc.  Have you ever wondered why that Intel “DumDum,DumDUM!” logo keeps popping up in TV ads for HP, Dell, or Lenovo?  Or you see those “HP recommends using Windows 7 Professional” blurbs in the magazine ads?  That’s because Intel & Microsoft pay a significant amount of the costs of those ads to co-market HP’s products. 

This lack of co-marketing becomes a “big red warning light” to me when you realize that HP’s gotta grab consumers – not just business folk, with their TouchPad offering, meaning broad marketing & advertising is critical to getting market recognition and thus penetration.  But even with the Enterprise business set, remember that WebOS has no realistic Enterprise programmability, manageability & security strongly weakening WebOS’s position in this space.  Even Apple & Google still haven’t figured out that last bit and they’ve been around for a while.

After some thought, I came up with the following considerations as to what I think is absolutely essential as a baseline for this form factor:

  • Form Factor Utility/Price Ratio – How useful is the design relative to the price?  At what point does someone just say, “Wow.  I might as well just get a PC” versus “It’s cheap but it’s kinda useless.”
  • Practical Application Set – Does it have the most important applications, instead of “Angry Birds”?  And are they full-featured and are there decent alternatives to their desktop counterparts?
  • Palatable End User Experience – Will people like the experience?  Is it enjoyable instead of frustrating?  Does it work the way one would expect it to work?

Now here’s the technical specs:

  • WebOS w/ Activity Card interface
  • “PalmBrowser” – HTML5, Adobe Flash
  • 8000 apps
  • 1.2Ghz dual-core ARM Snapdragon
  • 512MB RAM
  • 16/32GB Storage
  • Gorilla Glass
  • 1.3Mp front facing camera
  • A-GPS
  • Stereo speakers
  • Gyroscope/Accelerometer
  • WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Mobile broadband SIM slot
  • MicroUSB port
  • Special features:
    • Touch-to-share – Share URLs by “touching” the Pre to the TouchPad. 
    • Text message sync – Synchronize text messages between the Palm Pre & the TouchPad

What stands out to me?

  • WEBOS:  The experience is good.  I’ve used it.  It’s fast and quick however it can tend to bog down just like Windows does as a multitasking OS.  The thing is, can you think of any software HP has produced or bought that’s turned out well?  I don’t mean that in disrespect – it’s a legitimate question.  Name one software product that they churn out that’s been ‘great’?  On top of that, it’s going to have no ecosystem around it other than HP providers.  They’re not partnering with anyone.   Again – NO ONE ELSE is using this OS – only HP.  No 3rd party enhancements, no non-HP designs.  I don’t even know any HP folks that own Palm Pre’s so I find it really hard to believe there’s going to be community around this device.
  • PALM BROWSER:  Yup.  Another browser to support.  Of course they highlighted HTML5 & Flash support… because from a compatibility perspective, WebOS wasn’t particularly friendly with corporate sites – witness what happens when you attempt to us it for SharePoint or moderately complex AJAX sites (A: Stuff doesn’t layout correctly, render on the screen at all, or just plain won’t drag & drop) – so they do indeed need to look ahead.
  • 8000 APPS:  And none of them are optimized for the Tablet form factor.  I’m highly skeptical about this 8000 app quote because the market’s been stale for so long on WebOS.  Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7’s marketplace is about to pass WebOS in the number of apps available.  This is after they’ve been dumping seed money into the community to create apps for the launch – what does that tell you?  Yes, they have titles like Angry Birds… but then again, the Palm Pre’s been around for a LOT LONGER than Windows Phone 7 – almost 2 years – so I’d expect better marquee titles.  But I don’t see them.
  • TOUCH-TO-SHARE:  This TouchStone gimmick is DOA as far as I’m concerned being that it requires a Palm Pre to use and only shares URLs between the two devices.  Seriously – how niche can a feature be?  This reminds me of Zune’s wireless-sharing feature which only worked with other Zunes and only shared music – not videos, podcasts, audiobooks, pictures, etc.  – and even then, the music was DRMed for 3 plays only. 
  • TEXT MESSAGE SYNC:  Again, another niche feature that’s DOA because it requires a Palm Pre.  And even if it did work with other phones over – say Bluetooth – if you’re a kid, this might be practical – going back and form between Phone & Slate.  However if you’re a kid, you won’t own one of these.  It’s not a PC replacement.

Questions I have:

  • PRICE.  Gorilla glass, dual-core processor, custom firmware on non-commodity hardware.  (No, it’s NOT a commodity.  HP’s the only one’s using this design & config.)  This doesn’t look cheap and HP’s trying to break into a market that is already got players with commoditized hardware, ecosystems, additional added income from volume revenue streams. (Android Marketplace & iTunes) A lot of their success is going to depend on if they decide to “give away razors to sell razor blades”:  If the TouchPad is priced rock bottom to make money on WebOS marketplace sales… alright, I think it’s got a chance, but HP’s gonna need a long term war chest like Microsoft’s to weather the storm like we did with Xbox, which took 8 years & $10B in investment to become persistently profitable.  (Which we will likely make up in the next 2 years alone, if you can believe that.)
  • APPS CATALOG.  After 2 years, of existence, Windows Phone 7’s total app count is going to pass WebOS’s total number of apps available this next month.  What does that tell you?
  • DEVELOPER COMMUNITY.  Unless they’ve got a program – and remember that HP isn’t a software company – that assists people in porting apps to WebOS, they’re in a world of hurt because we’ve spent a mint on this process for Windows Phone 7 and we have the most widely used development tools in the world.  WebOS uses its own IDE and it’s own application development libraries – which no one’s used before.
  • SDFLASH.  Or the lack there of.  Really?  No slot on a Tablet?  Designed for movie playback?  Photo display/collages?  Really?
  • EXCHANGE ACTIVESYNC.  It was crappy on the Palm Pre.  It’ll be interesting to see how this goes on the TouchPad.  I won’t go into the details but Palm’s support for Exchange was lousy.  For example:  You couldn’t create meetings on your calendar.
  • BATTERY LIFE/REMOVABLE BATTERY.  The reason people haven’t used dual cores is because battery life historically gets cut in half on mobile devices when you do.  Not surprisingly, there was no mention of battery life in the announcement or the press materials.

“Just my opinion.  Now, I could be wrong.  I’ve been wrong before.  I’m good at being wrong.  But I don’t think I’m wrong.”  – Jim Rome

3 Responses to HP’s WebOS TouchPad: Someone tell me what’s the differentiator?

  1. kurtsh says:

    Ha ha… now that’s funny, Joanne. Your sense of geek entitlement is truly radiant. Don’t you worry. I’ll get to it when I have moment.

  2. kurtsh says:

    “I am glad I took the time… etc. etc.” Y’know, most people on the Internet check back and if they don’t see a response, they blow it off no worse for the wear. You on the other hand, seem to demand the satisfaction of a response on your timetable to an comment you placed on someone else’s turf as if you were… what’s that word? Oh yeah. Entitled. I’m sorry Joanne but I blog according to my own clock, so like I said before… I’ll get to it when I can, okay?

  3. […] I’d never met (who shall remain nameless) posted a rather long comment to a post I made about HP’s WebOS-based “TouchPad”.  It was basically a list of reasons why the TouchPad would succeed and frankly it initially […]

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