HP's TouchPad fire sale may be the best thing to ever happen to webOS

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| August 21, 2011

If you haven't already heard, HP's out of the webOS hardware business and they celebrated by announcing a fire sale of all of their remaining webOS devices (save for the Pre3 and just-released 64GB TouchPad), slashing the TouchPad's price from the already-lowered $399 (16GB) and $499 (32GB) price tags to a mere $99 and $149, respectively. Many viewed this solely as an irresistible deal and potentially the beginning of the end of webOS. To be honest, I initially thought this was a terrible move by HP – it still may prove to be in the long run. But for the moment, this is the greatest thing to happen to webOS yet.

From its start back in 2009, webOS has been the underdog. Little did Palm know the mobile realm would burst at the seams just months after their release of the Pre, and they were not ready for that financially or mentally. One thing led to another and HP bought Palm, saving them from a crash landing. After spending $1.2 billion on Palm, HP decides to drop them like dead weight just under a year and a half later, while deciding to keep the software train rolling. Smooth move, HP.

I've already analyzed where both HP and Palm went wrong with webOS. Among other things, poor marketing, mediocre and slim choice of hardware and the inability to change a failing business plan landed webOS where it is today. But this unexpected fire sale finally gave the web-based platform the single most important thing it never really had on a large scale: mindshare.

Before the TouchPad launched, existing webOS fans were really the only people looking forward to the 9.7-inch slab. For $100 less, you could get an Android tablet with comparable specs and arguably better hardware. For the same price as a TouchPad, users could pick up an iPad. What were the odds of newcomers picking up a tablet with a mostly unknown operating system with questionable hardware over the popular iPad, Transformer or Galaxy Tab 10.1? I think the sales numbers speak for themselves. Even dropping the price of the TouchPad $100 didn't seem to change consumers' minds very much.

Drop the price another $300 (and $450 for the 32GB version) and people go nuts. Anyone who tried to get their hands on the webOS tablet at some point over the last two days should know exactly what I mean. It was worse than trying to find an iPad near Christmas last year. The TouchPad fire sale began on HP's website late Friday night; getting an order to go through was hit-or-miss. Troubles carried over into Saturday as the website was intermittently showing the TouchPad in and out of stock throughout the day and purchases kept timing out. Trying to find a TouchPad in retail stores around the US was also a hit-or-miss. Most of the local retailers told me they sold out by 9 AM Saturday morning.

I knew a fire sale would garner some hysteria, but this weekend was absolutely insane. People who would not normally buy a webOS product rushed to brick and mortar stores early Saturday morning and bought two, three, even four TouchPads. Most likely, these buyers were people who always wanted a tablet but could not muster up the will to spend several hundred dollars on one. That, or they were looking for cheap Christmas gifts ahead of time. There is also a good chance that people bought a TouchPad as an inexpensive means of getting their hands on a tablet with great specs, only to port Android to it. But I digress, this last minute fire sale finally brought webOS into the limelight.

These lucky recipients of TouchPads – who would have never had hands-on time with webOS otherwise – now get to peruse the wonders of HPalm's web-based platform. Sure, HP is losing a ton of money on this sale considering the cost for HP to make a TouchPad was reportedly $306.65 for the 16GB version and $328.65 for the 32GB. Since HP is getting out of the hardware business, it's a small price to pay if the fire sale works in the favor of webOS. If people get the software in their hands and actually like it, we may experience a last minute turnaround from webOS.

Application support is still slim, but webOS is one of the easiest mobile platforms to develop for. I'm guessing curious developers, too, jumped on the deal on the slim chance that webOS may actually gain traction. It's a small gamble that could prove to be well worth it if the platform does take hold. If not, there's still a shot at turning the TouchPad into an Android tablet. Sounds like a win-win to me.

So who fought the masses this weekend and picked up a TouchPad? I grabbed five online, but had no luck at any retail locations. Do you plan to use it as is, give it as a gift or load Android on it (if and when available)? Sound off, pups!

Image via CNET

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