Sunday, August 21, 2011
Editorial: Where HP Went Wrong, Right, and How to Fix Things
On April 28, 2010, HP announced it would acquire Palm for $1.2 Billion. At this time, HP was doing great, but Palm was failing fast- their products were aging, and the new hardware and software wasn't selling very well. At the same time though, the software had a lot of potential, being the only true user interface competitor to Apple's iPhone. As the year marched on, the Palm brand died and was replaced by HP. On July 1, 2011, HP launched the first and the last webOS tablet. Then on August 18- a mere fifty days after the release of the HP TouchPad, the large, successful company announced that they were done with webOS, they were done with the Pre and they were done with the TouchPad. The product itself didn't even have the time to grow or evolve. To add insult to injury, the company also revealed it's plan to duck out of the hardware business and jump into software.
What they got right.
The Touchpad, although rather bulky when compared to the competition, was the only product that actually staged itself as a reasonable competitor to Apple's iPad. It had the speedy, simple interface that's look and feel almost mirrored iOS. Yet, Palm's use of gestures was so innovative that it proved to the perfect rival to Apple's solution and helped make the interface feel more natural. Another worthy thing to mention was the multitasking- it was real and the only solution that just... felt right. Apple uses background multitasking, and it barely takes advantage of the memory under the hood. Google's Android solution just became a RAM hog, and RIM really didn't have it together.
The Pre was a fantastic phone. It was small enough to be cradled in the palm of your hand, it was light enough to shove or slip into any pocket. The interface, as mentioned before, was simple, clean and beautiful. For myself, I found it to be more visually stunning than iOS. But hey, it's just my opinion. The Pre also happens to be one of most attractive designs I've ever seen in a piece of hardware. Sure, it's not up to iPhone standards, but then again, it's target market doesn't really care about appearances.
Where they went wrong.
The Veer was horrible. That being said, the thing is freaking adorable. But in all seriousness (can you believe we're being serious today?) the Veer was lacking in more places than not. The largest flaw, which has been flaunted as the product's greatest feature, is it's tiny chasis. Unfortunately, most people who use a touchscreen phone, expect a display with a size of 3.5 inches or greater. The Veer, although following in the same screen size as it's older brother, the Pixi, is far too small to use and feels too much like a toy. To add to it's cheapness, webOS performance feels too sluggish and it annoys the hell out of me. Sure, it's faster than the original Pre, but this half-baked sequel to the rather snappy Pixi just feels rushed and over thought. Because of this, the unit didn't sell well. That just leads to the next issue...
Why didn't HP just release the Pre3 at the same time as the Veer? The Pre3 is perhaps the best looking and most sensible continuation of the Pre line- an upgraded chasis, a better keyboard, webOS 2.0, a 1.4 GHz processor... the list goes on and on. This is what the Pre2 should have been, but wasn't. Instead of focusing on the Pre3, which would have been the savior to the webOS product family, it focused on it's iPad competitor- the TouchPad.
The biggest problem with the TouchPad is, HP focused so hard on beating the first iPad instead of it's successor. The hardware feels the same- with the same thickness of the iPad and dimensions. To add to that, it shipped with a glitchy version of webOS, when they easily could have waited and shipped a fresher version that fixed everything. The use of plastics just makes the device feel cheap, and the display leaves a rather stale taste in our mouths. It's the iPad 1, in a world of iPad 2 copycats. Because of that, it was ignored. But then, HP decided to liquidate their stock at ultra-cheap prices. They brought it down by a hundred dollars and then three hundred dollars... until the product cost only $99. It sold out like wildfire. And apparently, the company is now processing more just so that they can satisfy the newfound desire for the product.
What HP should do to fix things.
Kill the Veer and focus on the Pre3. The Veer has no place on the market, and therefore is just cluttering the selection of webOS devices. The Pre3 is the potential savior of the platform, and so far has a lot more potential than the Veer or the TouchPad ever did.
Upgrade the TouchPad in terms of both hardware and software. Don't try and mirror the iPad 2. You should be able to say that your product not only competes with the iPad, but blows it out of the water. Get developers excited and ready to build the best applications they can, and make it easier for them to code. Focusing on just one development platform makes things a lot easier.
License webOS to other companies, and give the users more choice. Don't focus on exclusivity like Apple does. You're trying to hard to be Apple, instead of focusing on building the best products in the industry.
Support your early adopters; the people who bought the Pre, Pre Plus, Pixi, Pixi Plus and the Pre2. Those are the users who have stuck by you to the very bitter end, and like you for webOS and it's features. If you don't support them, you'll lose them to Apple or Google. Giving users 50 dollars off of the TouchPad, instead of providing software updates or new phones, is not the way to conduct business. When users purchase a device, they expect support for 3-4 years.
Just one more thing...
Selling off or even spinning off your powerful PC business is a huge mistake. Your users will never forgive you, your products will ultimately be garbage, and innovation will be non existant. Pump innovation through both business and consumer sectors. Give people what they crave for in a product. Make it sexy, make it affordable, make it easy for anybody to operate. That's why Apple's been kicking your ass these last few years. Take a stand, because if you don't, somebody else will.