There’s lots of good writing about HP’s decision yesterday to kill WebOS devices. Ewan writes about why HP killed WebOS, and I especially agree with this bit:
I’m embarrassed that a company with revenues of one hundred and twenty-six BILLION dollars couldn’t hack it in the consumer mobile space. It would be laughable if the sad reality wasn’t so sobering. Come on, seriously? Is it really that difficult to compete? Or did you ham-string everything from the start with the usual corporate shenanigans?
Let us be clear. It takes time to build a platform. A platform is more than just words. It’s hardware, an operating system, an ecosystem of app developers, customers, and a long-term investment. If Leo Apotheker did not realise these things when HP bought Palm, then he was negligent at best.
Hardware is tangible and there are well-proven paths to making it happen, whether it is a PC, a mobile phone, or a tablet.
Operating systems are difficult, but there are well-proven paths to making them happen, whether entirely from scratch or building on top of existing kernels such as Linux and distributions such as Debian or Fedora.
Third-party developer ecosystems are hard and there are no well-proven paths as developers are fickle, but there are plenty of documented best practices. The first of which is that it takes a lot of time.
Frankly, HP never got to the point of spending sufficient time on the developer ecosystem before pulling the plug.Third-party developers were just beginning to report the ‘touchpad effect’ – a huge upswing in sales as a result of new hardware.
HP did not give the developers time to see profitability, to get more of their apps out on the market, and to attract new developer blood to the platform. HP also did little to stimulate the market to begin with: where are the free headline apps from big name brands, part-funded by HP to make them happen? Sorry, but “Angry Birds” does not a platform make.
Customer acceptance feeds from and into the developer ecosystem in a virtuous cycle. More customers buying apps leads to more developers building apps.
Launching a product in the middle of summer and then killing confidence with price cuts and pre-announcements of new hardware is not a good way to shift product, inspire developers and build up a customer base.
I pre-ordered my Touchpad on 20th June, the first day pre-orders were possible. It arrived on 4th July. Just some of the highlights since then include:
- On 1st July, HP announced the developer program offering at least 25% off the list price for developers. It’s a great deal for developers, but a great way to ensure buyer’s remorse for those that took the plunge already, and also to stop developers going out and buying devices in stores. I immediately emailed HP to see if the discount could be applied to my purchase, and over a month later I heard back that it wasn’t possible.
- A week after receiving my TouchPad, and three days before it officially went on sale in the UK, HP announced the 4G version, with a faster processor. A great way to ensure buyer’s remorse, and to stop new buyers from taking the plunge.
- Two weeks ago, HP officially slashed the price by $100 in the US, and offered a $50 app store credit to those that bought it full price. The app store credit is still not available in the UK, though a £50 device discount now is. A great way to ensure buyer’s remorse.
- Earlier this week, stories leaked of a 64GB white TouchPad, with a faster processor.
- The Kindle app for WebOS is still not available for UK users, a month after it went live in the US. The HP MovieStore is also not available.
Despite all of that, I use the TouchPad far more than I ever used the iPad, and I was still enthusiastic enough to keep working on the WebOS London meetups. After weeks of planning, we didn’t even have time to hold the first real meetup at the end of this month before HP’s bombshell hit. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens now.
The pattern of price cuts, pre-announcing new devices, and now the news of a sell-off for the consumer devices part of HP and the purchase of Autonomy suggests that the leadership of HP are in a panic. The late release of the TouchPad and then the crazy cuts suggest a desperate last-ditch attempt to reach those internal milestones and targets that Leo referred to on the earnings call.
The announcement of the death of the hardware platform — followed by assertions that WebOS will live on in some undefined way — suggest a complete lack of strategy and clear thinking.
On what basis could you go to OEMs looking for licensing deals and asking them to take a risk, having previously told the world that as one of the largest IT companies in the world you weren’t prepared to take the risk?
What’s sad here is that there are many ways HP could have divested themselves of WebOS whilst positioning the platform for growth and wider adoption. Unfortunately the route they have taken is pretty much the most damaging that could be imagined, and makes it unnecessarily difficult to recover from. The brave folks at Palm GBU did not deserve such a poorly-implemented misstep, straight out of the Elop playbook.
Meanwhile, despite all this, the TouchPad is a great tablet for those that want good multitasking, excellent cloud syncing, seamless integration with contacts from Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, excellent Microsoft Exchange support, brilliant notifications, a natural gesture-based interface, and even quite a nice messaging app. There are some excellent apps available, though there’s still no HP standard way to search for apps via a web browser. Discoverability leads to sales. I found the links below with Google, and even then my hit rate was only 70%.
The apps I use most frequently include:
- Advanced Browser
- Tea Reader
- Sparkle HD
- Spaz HD
- Radiant HD
- Spaceblip HD
- Glyder 2 HD
- Quell HD
- Ground Effect Pro XHD
- InterfaceLift HD
- Tap-Tap Rockets HD
- TuneIn Radio
- Paper Mache
- Guardian Zeitgeist
- lastminute.com TheTicketApp
- Weather Dashboard HD
If you have a TouchPad, go buy them. Put a smile on the developers’ faces, on what has to be a pretty bleak day for them.
And let’s wait and see what happens to one of the few truly innovative and human mobile platforms on the market today.