The TouchPad, Pre 3 and Veer: A new beginning or end for HP?

Posted by ROB ENDERLE

A few days ago I analyzed the bar for what we now know as the HP TouchPad, which was one of the three products HP announced today.  



The big surprise was the virtual elimination of the Palm brand which, given how far it had fallen off, seemed like a smart move but it may have put at risk the core remaining Palm fans.

Can you imagine if Apple had been acquired when it was nearly bankrupt in the 90s abandoning the Apple brand? 

The TouchPad, Pre 3 and Veer: A new beginning or end for HP? Given what an uphill battle this will be against Apple you would think that HP would have played stronger to the remaining fan base but given their problems with the Compaq brand, they favored simplicity over loyalty.   

It was an efficient move, history will tell whether it was a wise one. 

Price

The price bar was set by Apple at a $500 starting point for the tablet plus any data plan, and the smartphone at $200 after a reasonable data plan subsidy.   



The Veer, which appears to be focused largely on size, didn't announce with a price but I'd expect it to be in the $100 range when it shows up later in the year, may even be free with a subsidy. 



Either would be fine and it appears nicely differentiated for those that like small. The Pre 3 is an update on the Pre 2 and likely will be priced similarly.

Best guess appears to be that the TouchPad will be priced above the iPad. If true, this would be a definite miss.

Name

Pre 3 maintains the Pre legacy (such that it is), and there are loyal users that they want and should keep. Fortunately, the TouchPad is vastly better than it could have been -  but may have gone too far the other way - kind of like coming out with a competitor for Kleenex called Tissue.   

Another problem is that if you search on TouchPad in Amazon you get tons of keyboard like products that have TouchPads. This will be problematic because the name is in the public domain and if you search on it, looking for accessories and the like, you'll get a ton of stuff you don't want. 


Now, Veer may be too generic to defend and doesn't have much of an edge to it. Simply put, the Veer speaks to an old saying I coined a few years ago: The only thing folks in a company like HP will agree on when it comes to a brand new name is that the person who came up with it is an idiot.

However, all of the above are vastly better than most names HP typically has and are memorable. So, if the products are good, they may be good enough. 

But I don't think they met the bar with the TouchPad as the name is too often used for something else. This is a miss, and may become a mess. 

Design

I forgot this on my earlier piece but the bar is the current iPad/iPhone both of which are rumored to be redesigned for their next generations. 

The product needed to be attractive in both hardware and interface and nicely identified as uniquely HP.

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder but I found the line to be attractive to my eye with only one exception it looks thick and the back is curved so it doesn't look like it would sit flat well. This is something that the iPad 2 is rumored to be fixing but, in general it is in line with what is in market. This makes the bar but may miss it if rumors of the new iPad are correct.

Performance

It appears HP is now deploying the current generation of solutions from Qualcomm which position well against the Nvidia line and exceed the performance of the iPad.

Unfortunately, they may not exceed the performance of the iPad 2 but that will be an issue for everything coming out this year and they did as well as anyone else could have done. 

16/32 GB of storage seems too small for a new product in this class with no mention of an upgrade path. That falls short of most of the non-iPad products coming this year which have SD card slots. 



It has Beats audio technology which should improve sound and address what is a shortcoming in the current iPad. Still, 

Beats doesn't make up for the lack of an SD slot in my mind - so this is a miss against the iPad alternatives.  

Cameras

The current iPad has none so the bar is low, but HP needed to offer something at least as good as the next-gen iPad is likely to have.  Right now the rumor is that the iPad 2 only sports one front facing camera for video conferencing (which, honestly given how big these things are, is all I think they need). 


That being said, the TouchPad tablet boasts only one user facing camera. Most all other non iPad products will have more capability, say two cameras. 

So this is a miss, but not an important one given I really doubt folks will use the camera on the back of most of these. 

Accessories

Not much on accessories at the event and this is likely a cart and horse problem with few wanting to build them unless they are sure the products will sell. 



The Touchstone base for the phones is particularly cool though because it does inductive charging and automatically transforms the phone into a desktop accessory. 

This is one of the original advantages that the Pre had which remains with the line.  



There is a touchstone works with the TouchPad as well and this provides a similar unique experience. Otherwise, as expected, they are initially light on accessories, and apparently lack an integration with the HP eStation tablet driven printer. 

I expect the necessary covers and keyboards will show up shortly and the Touchstone gives them a win here. 

Application Support

Clearly, HP is years behind where Android and Apple are with regard to number of applications. 

Of the core ones they are solid, as you would expect from a product with PALM DNA, on PDA functions. 

The application management is also pretty slick though they seemed to have some issues in the demo suggesting there still is some work to do here before these ship.  

The TouchPad offers strong connections to social networking which now is becoming common with this class. There is a good Time Inc. reading app, but the jury is still out on whether folks will pay for this class of content. 

No evidence of Kindle, Netflix, or a game that could be as popular as Angry Birds. Their leading app appears to be Facebook and that clearly isn't enough. 


Video calling within the family is similar to Apple but feels like the Zune music sharing feature that only worked between Zunes. As such, folks will have trouble finding others who have a phone they can conference with. 

Really, what don't the HP folks get about telecom products that need to interoperate broadly?

Given we are still months off from launch they have time to fix this, so while it is a miss for now, it may not be when the product is available. Obviously, there is a huge emphasis on apps at the event - but developers go where the products are and with the products not arriving until much later in the year and given how poorly the Palm Pre 1 and 2 did, selling them will be somewhat problematic.   



HP claims the TouchPad will provide the best gaming experience, but that does you little good if you don't have a cache of titles. They should be funding developer efforts at this stage and that isn't evident. This was incredibly light and showcases what may be massive underfunding for this project. 

Wireless Support

Only Verizon is announced and only for the Veer. Recall no carriers seemed to want the Palm Pre 2 and this has been an historic problem with all of HP's phones. They just don't seem to be able to get carriers. For the Tablet, with a Smartphone that will tether or a 3G hub it should be fine but at this state they miss the bar here. Could be a huge problem for the Pre 3 but most don't use 3G for the iPad so not a big miss for the tablet. Still it is a miss.

Marketing

Too early to tell, but at events like this the most successful (outside of Apple) tend to lead with marketing creative and this event was really short on "oh wow" moments. Yet, they actually ended with a nice commercial.

But good marketing is becoming a problem with the class as most of the devices being released are being announced poorly. Folks really should read the book "Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs." 



The event ran long and started to bleed off the excitement that initially existed. Some bloggers were joking about things like sharks eating the speakers and being increasingly fond of their battery life on the Apple products they are blogging from. Not a good sign.   



To quote Michael Gartenberg, "trick at press events is knowing when to stop," and HP went on way too long.

Obviously, I've seen worse, but this won't ever slightly bother Apple. The product isn't due until summer so it is way too early to call overall marketing.  

But recall that Palm's poor marketing largely killed the Pre off early, and that launch was one of the best I'd ever seen, and you see an area for concern.   



Announcing this early means that the product will seem old when it finally arrives and this is so not Apple. No call on this yet, will revisit at the official launch. But this isn't a good start.

Wrapping Up

With the iPad 2 in production and expected to be in stores before the end of April, and the iPhone 4 slated for June, the new line of HP tablets will show up only after the Apple launches and run against those products.    



They are missing too many things to give them much of a chance against Apple. However, at the right price and with the right marketing they might do better against Android alternatives particularly given how immature Android 3.0 appears to be.    



They made a big point of owning music with the Beats audio but this is Apple's strength with iTunes and running against an Apple strength, given their power in the market, seems foolish.    


They closed by announcing they were going to put the WebOS on PCs this puts them directly at war with Microsoft and Apple on a rather broad scale. This adds to the wars they have against Oracle, and IBM. There is such a thing as opening up too many fronts at once and he level of funding that would be required to make this work is astronomical.   

It is great to have a vision, but this almost seems suicidal. Granted, if they really want to run against Apple broadly this is likely what is required but the level of commitment is may be beyond any company's resources. 



Sure, they ended with the statement, "this is just the beginning," Yet, I worry that this is the beginning of the end.

See more about: