The Bigger They Are…HP Touchpad No More!

A week can be a long time in the consumer electronics world and in the smartphone and tablet space, it can be a lifetime. For the new HP Touchpad it was less than a week. In Australia, it had only just been released to lukewarm reception at the beginning of last week. By week’s end, HP had declared the end of the development of any further hardware related to webOS devices and announced a review of its PC hardware division.

Of course, if anyone had predicted that the webOS-powered Touchpad would be all but sold out by the beginning of this week, that would have been laughed off as crazy talk. In Canada and the United States, and then Australia, the Touchpad was cleared to frenzied buyers for as low as $99.

HP Touchpad... $499 one day, $99 the next. Shortest product lifespan since.. the beginning of products?

There is now an installed base of hundreds of thousands of webOS devices courtesy of the Touchpad’s sudden death. Although HP won’t be developing anything further for this device, such is the depth and talent of the developer community that there will undoubtedly be an enthusiastic hobbyist following for some time to come. You might not risk fooling around with your expensive iPad2, but a $99 Touchpad… why not? A group calling themselves TouchDroid have already given themselves the task of porting Android Gingerbread and then Honeycomb onto the Touchpad.

I managed to snag one myself (thanks Ben!), and I’ll be watching these developments with keen eyes. We’ve seen firsthand how a jailbreaking community can assist in inspiring new features in updated OS platforms, and I’m sure this will be no different.

If you look at the Touchpad events in the context of the Google acquisition of Motorola, announced shortly before the demise of the HP tablet, the bond between hardware and software has never been so critical. Apple have shown the world what having such tight control over hardware, operating systems, content and third party apps can produce – in this case, the largest company in the world.

On the other hand, reports are coming out that webOS had the makings of a great platform but was paired with sub-standard, 2 year-old hardware, and actually ran twice as fast on an iPad. There was very little developer support in comparison to iOS or Android.

Google’s purchase of Motorola gives it the ammunition it needs to design hardware intrinsically linked to the software and app/content ecosystem. A visit to the Android app market illustrates the issue of servicing multiple manufacturers, with owners of various devices venting their frustrations with non-working apps on their smartphones. Google will be able to make guarantees about app quality and performance on hardware they themselves design and manufacture.

Of course, Apple don’t licence their desktop or smartphone/tablet operating systems to anyone, whereas Google will need to maintain their relationships with the likes of Samsung and HTC, who have helped Google reach the market share they now command. Time will tell whether manufacturers currently using Android as their platform of choice will seek alternatives to avoid reliance on their direct competitor for fast deployment of new features and system updates.

The Nokia-Windows relationship, which many had questioned when it was first publicly announced, may now be the real dark horse of the future smartphone and tablet wars. Windows 8 previews have been met with cautious praise. Windows already has a solid developer base from its desktop business, so it would be expected that a high level of innovation and diversity will emerge as Windows 8 closes in on its launch date, sometime later in 2012.

The events of the last fortnight are notable from the absence of anything newsworthy from Apple, with the exception that they had become the largest company in the world in terms of capitalisation. In a world where some brands are shedding business units or are being devoured by other companies in a fight for survival, Apple’s business model and financial position speaks volumes.

Did you pick up a Touchpad for a steal, and what will you be doing with it? (Hint: eBay is already full of Touchpads being offered at double their discounted prices!)