Hewlett-Packard is dumping its TouchPad tablet just shy of 50 days after its introduction, and while the fire sale price of $99 might be tempting, there are a few things to consider before snatching one up.
HP said the company is shedding its tablet division, along with other businesses, after posting a dismal quarter this past week. The fire sale on the TouchPad also follows three other price reductions on the device, but it never hit critical mass.
Given the relative price of other tablets, this could be a good time to get one, but there are going to be some long-term ailments that may follow any consumer that acts now.
Keep in mind this guide is for the practical consumer. This isn't for the Gen-xers who would take the tablet apart, swap the CPU and write their own software to go onto it. This is for that person's mother.
This is for the average, daily buyer who wants to get something that simply works. In fact, an enthusiast can refute each point of this article -- so this article isn't for them.
The WebOS operating system could be the best mobile operating system of any device -- whether from Apple, Google or Microsoft. It's as intuitive and sleek as any iPad device, but offers the power and flexibility you would expect from Android or Windows Mobile.
That means it will make for a strong standalone product -- something you wouldn't get with RIM's Playbook, for instance, which has no email reader and needs a BlackBerry for mobile Internet.
The TouchPad does all the basics you need out of the box -- email, multimedia playback and a strong Web experience. It even offers true multitasking, a distinct advantage over Apple's iOS.
But without a company supporting the software anymore, it's unclear how long this platform will last. Consider that Apple has updated the software for the iPhone 4 several times since it debuted, with a major update expected this fall, adding a number of new features.
This will never happen on a TouchPad.
Granted HP developer relations encouraged developers to still make apps and the CEO gave a vague statement on continued development, but it's a big gamble for the average consumer to wage.
Chances are likely that what you get will be what you're stuck with -- forever.
The value of buying a product that actually has a company supporting it is that you have someone to speak with when things go awry.
There is also the occasional manufacturing defect that creeps into devices that could render your new tablet toy an expensive paper weight.
These things may happen, but in the TouchPad world there will be no recourse. Some retailers may offer you some kind of support simply for buying from them, but if you need a replacement product or maybe even spare parts, it will be difficult to find out when the mothership has left.
If you're a geek and like to manage these things, this may not be an issue. For the busy businessperson or technophobe consumer, this is a deal breaker.
The TouchPad does all the basics you need.
But the allure of competitors is going to be the experience beyond the operating system, and this is where the TouchPad won't deliver.
The webOS ecosystem is one of the least developed of all the major rivals. This means users will be stuck with what comes out of the box. Apps are few, and far in between, and with HP dropping support, it most likely will never get support.
You can blame Palm, the defunct father of webOS, and HP for this. The companies tried, but never could really embrace the developer community the way Google and Apple has.
You can also blame simple market dynamics. While a great operating system, the first Palm devices to run webOS were poorly marketed and woefully underpowered, tarnishing its reputation from the gates. Despite any company's poor efforts to embrace developers, critical mass would've sent developers knocking anyway.
Unfortunately webOS had neither.
To imagine what owning a TouchPad would be like, consider Microsoft Windows 7. It's a good, solid performer, with a number of built in features that makes it useful when you first fire it up.
But this isn't the rich Windows ecosystem that propelled Microsoft to become the largest software company on the planet, and enriched some of the world's most wealthiest men. This is an ecosystem void of any apps. This is a world not powered by the ingenuity of tens-of-thousands of companies and developers the world over, but only by Bill Gates.
Imagine you could never install anything onto Windows -- no Microsoft Office, no Firefox, no iTunes. Your browsing would be limited to Internet Explorer; your artistic dabbling's would take shape in Notepad and Paint. As dire as this seems, this is the reality for the TouchPad. It would get old very fast.
The actual hardware specs for the TouchPad are excellent.
It has the basic specs: The 9.7 inch Touchpad, which comes along with a 1,024 x 768 pixel display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 1.3 megapixel camera.
But despite good specs, remember webOS is a cutting edge operating system. Even on this hardware it feels sluggish, and that's a shame. It would have needed at least one more upgrade before it was on par with the iPad 2 as far as a smooth user experience.
In a normal world, this wouldn't be terrible, because you can start to build your experience on this, and upgrade to something newer later -- like from an iPad to a much faster iPad 2, for instance.
But with no more hardware coming out, this is the best you'll get, and its showing signs of age out the box.
The price does make it significantly less than any other decent tablet on the market now, however. So if you aren't concerned about the best performance and expandability, and trust you won't need help, go for it.