Why you shouldn't buy a discounted TouchPad tablet

Last week, Hewlett-Packard (HP), current "owner" of the webOS mobile OS, made an announcement that would ultimately send a ripple through the modern tablet PC space: HP said it would immediately "discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones."

In other words, HP, for all intents and purposes, abandoned webOS, and its current developer base, after seeing some very poor sales of both webOS handhelds and the TouchPad tablet, which was released less than two months ago in July.

The fact that HP decided to cut the cord on webOS isn't really surprising; the mobile OS simply didn't gain the critical mass of users it needed to compete with the likes of Google (Android), Apple (iOS), Research In Motion (BlackBerry) and Microsoft (Windows Phone 7), and HP was losing money on webOS.

Even more noteworthy is what happened after HP decided to drastically cut the price of TouchPads to $100 for the 16GB version and $150 for the 32GB tablet, to stem its financial bleeding: Consumers of all ilk immediately rushed out to HP retailers and jumped online to see if they could secure themselves a heavily discounted TouchPad (or two) to join in the tablet party. And those retailers rapidly sold out of available stock, prompting HP to begin selling TouchPads on its own websites. (As background, the 16GB and 32GB TouchPads were initially priced at $500 and $600, respectively, when they were released in July, though it didn't take long for HP to start offering up $50 "instant rebates" and other permanent discounts.)

"A hundred dollars is a great price for a brand new tablet!" you say. "I should rush right over to HP's site now to see if I can snag a TouchPad of my own, right?"

Well, I say no. And I'll explain why.

But first, let me say I have no doubt that some folks will probably be satisfied with their inexpensive-TouchPad purchases; I'm not saying that no one should buy a discounted webOS tablet, despite the title of this post. (I know some folks are buying a number of TouchPads and reselling them for profit, and in those cases, buyers may be very pleased with their purchases and subsequent sales, but that's a different story altogether...)

You should, however, remember the old axiom, "You get what you pay for."

1) TouchPad is Dead, You Want a Tablet with a Future

When HP announced its discontinued support for the TouchPad tablet, and webOS, it more or less raised a metaphorical middle finger to its developer base. What does that mean to TouchPad users? Put simply, HP abandoned its developers, and in turn, webOS developers have or will presumably abandon the platform, leaving webOS and TouchPad users with only the current webOS software and the current crop of available mobile applications to run on it.

To be fair, HP did say it "will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward," but counting on additional software updates and new mobile applications at this point would be a significant gamble. And not a very smart one.

More specifically, if you find a "quirk" or bug in the current webOS build for the TouchPad, you better get used to it, because nobody is working on a fix. Not satisfied with the currently available set of third-party TouchPad apps? Too bad, no more apps for you. Get the point?

I've heard rumors about various initiatives to port Android over to the TouchPad-- a recent video also surfaced suggesting Qualcomm has already made notable progress to this end--and this could quickly expand the available app selection. But if you're not particularly tech-savvy, you won't want to mess with that software anyway, since it probably won't exactly be simple to install and use, at least not at first.

2) Nobody Wanted a TouchPad Before the Price Cut for a Reason

Remember a few weeks ago, when HP couldn't sell a significant number of TouchPad tablets if the life of webOS depended on it? (As it turned out, it did.) And Best Buy was so disappointed with TouchPad sales that it threatened to send some 200,000 tablets, or roughly 90 percent of the TouchPads it originally took in, back to HP? Yeah, those miserable sales numbers were for a reason: Early TouchPad users weren't impressed with the tablet, especially when compared to the uber popular iPad, which unquestionably commands the lion's share of the tablet PC market.

I can't speak from personal experience, because I haven't spent any significant time with the TouchPad, but early reviews of the device painted a picture of a clunky, sluggish tablet with a very questionable developer ecosystem and application catalogue. Since then, the only thing that has changed is the TouchPad's asking price.

Is the massive price cut enough to make up for these shortcomings? The answer depends on what you plan to do with the tablet. If you're only going to surf the Web, for instance, maybe it is. But I think most of the folks rushing out to purchase cheap TouchPads are all caught up in the iPad hype, but have been hesitant to drop a minimum of $500 to pick up an Apple tablet or high-end Android slate of their own. As such, it's likely that in a couple of weeks some serious buyer's remorse will set in for many of these TouchPad buyers when they realize that the TouchPad doesn't provide a truly comparable experience to that of the all mighty iPad, with its seemingly unending selection of apps and seamless UI experience.

In my opinion, the average consumer with iPad-envy would be better off holding onto their pennies until they add up to enough for a tablet that can live up to their expectations.

I'll end this post with a final thought: Picture yourself a year or so down the road, TouchPad in hand, as Apple releases yet another amazing version of the iPad, Google releases refined versions of it Android tablet OS, and RIM (maybe) drops a second-generation PlayBook. Do you think you'll still be satisfied with that original webOS software and set of compatible applications? Or will the $100 you spent on TouchPad feel wasted, since you're already planning to drop another $500 or more on tablet still filled with promise and potential?

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at asacco@cio.com

Tags hardware systemstabletsHewlett-Packard

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Al Sacco

CIO (US)

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