Stop Serving Half-Baked Tablets

When a flood of tepid reviews started coming in for the HP TouchPad, Jon Rubinstein did what any sensible leader would do: accentuate the positive. In a leaked internal memo, the senior VP and general manager of the Palm Global Business Unit reportedly rallied his troops by stressing that “the industry understands HP’s vision and sees the same potential in webOS as we do.”

Rubinstein also acknowledged that HP’s first webOS tablet has flaws, but assured his charges that these issues would be addressed by over-the-air software updates. As he said, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I just have one question. Why would you start a race—even a long-distance one–with one leg tied behind your back?

The TouchPad certainly does some things well, including a slick interface that makes it easy to multitask, built-in Skype video chat, and the ability to share info with webOS phones with a tap. However, at times during my review the TouchPad was borderline unusable. Sometimes I would touch something on screen and nothing would happen until many seconds later, and other times the accelerometer took an eternity to change orientations. Other times apps took their sweet time loading, leaving me just staring at a spinning circle. Consumers deserve better than the promise of better performance later.

HP readily admits that the TouchPad was under development for less than a year, and that webOS had to be re-written for larger screen devices. A spokesperson shared that I “should be looking at webOS 3.0 as a nearly complete new version” of the software. I’m certainly willing to give the TouchPad a pass for a lack of apps. 300 choices is miniscule compared to 100,000 for the iPad, but you have to give the ecosystem time to develop. I’m much less lenient when it comes to shipping a product that’s simply not working the way it should.

Assuming that HP was testing the TouchPad internally, the company certainly knew its tablet wasn’t fully baked long before it handed it to me and others to review. So why not wait a few more weeks—or months, if need be—to iron out the kinks before releasing the tablet? As it stands now, there’s no ETA for the TouchPad’s first over-the-air update, and I simply wouldn’t recommend the device until it works properly.

Esteemed colleague Harry McCracken summed up HP’s situation well with this tweet: “Advice to tablet companies: Do no advertising. Take the money you save. HIRE MORE QA PEOPLE.”

Note that he said tablet companies and not just HP. And that’s because HP is not alone in shipping slates that aren’t fully baked. The Motorola Xoom was buggy at launch as well, and I don’t think a recent $100 price drop is going to save that bulky device. And RIM had the gall to say “Amateur hour is over” when advertising its PlayBook tablet. You know, the one that still doesn’t have native email and calendar apps. At least Samsung had the guts to scrap its 10-inch Galaxy Tab design and start over when it saw the iPad 2.

Near the end of his missive, Rubinstein used what has become one of the naughtiest words in the tech industry—the P word. “Your hard work and passion, and the power of HP’s commitment to webOS, will turn that potential into the real thing.” Unfortunately, potential doesn’t sell.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. i told u so.com Says:

    I def understand your argument concerning the HP touchpad, though of course as other tablets as even you mentioned (the Xoom, Playbook) also had its flaws out the gate. The difference I see with HP (not entirely an excuse) is that they had no room to delay 1 of 2 of there flagship devices anymore then they already did. Mind you we all do not know internally how long it takes for each individual OS takes to make it fully optimized with zero bugs out the gate. As well as I used the device for a week now and can say, yes it does lag at times, but not as bad as most reviewers state. I have been a developer for Webos since it was launched, and know that yes a basic software update to fix the scripts is all it needs to optimize the OS, as well as improve the battery life drasticly. Though even with our Homebrew community we have made available patchs to compensate greatly these short comings for consumers until that is issued. Funny once this is optimized, and the applications (which are coming very fast, and being ported over fast) will be the best tablet on the market. I dont know the sales numebrs, but funny thing is I believe the touchpad has been selling very well. So yes I see your point about releasing products half baked, or not ready, but in some companies defense they simply do not have all the time in the world sometimes to make sure a product is 100% when introducing a brand new product (like HP did with their first tablet) to the market. I would really only critizes HP in paticular if in a year or 2 they have a simliar issue, since by then they will have a product cycle out like a Apple or Google which at this point (Xoom, tab etc) have no excuses coming out buggy.

  2. Anton Says:

    I think the important part of this particular story (TouchPad I mean) is that HP hasn’t fully acquired Palm yet – not internally. Otherwise we’d have seen better hw/sw integration and generally less sucky hardware.

  3. cg Says:

    I concur with this article. We have too many tablet on the market that are either half-baked or not “ready for prime time.” At least one company, Samsung, had the guts to admit that their first 10.1 tablet was not ready and went back to the drawing board. (Okay, apple has some issue with the new design, but hey, Samsung went back to the drawing board and has issued a product ready for prime time).

    In addition, these companies need to have tester and common people providing input into their product. RIM is a total mess, I predict that the company will fail. Tech companies are sometime arrogant and believe that they know what is go for the consumer: (Remember what GM said before: what is good for GM is good for the American consumer; that’s why the Japanese auto industry over took the American auto industry.)

    Samsung appears to be doing well (Sidebar – I have the first tab 7 inch-Samsung Galaxy Tab)

    I am hold off until Amazon release their tablet and also, WINDOWS 8.

    I here is some free advice and spec for any new tablet:

    - Weight- less than 1.5 lbs —> very important…the tablet should be lightweight
    -LCD/LED Screen -H-D
    -CPU- Dual core/ Quad Core (its coming)
    -Network connectivity- b/g/n; Bluetooth, 3g/4g (its time people)
    -32/ 64 gigs (16 gigs okay)
    -3.5 min headphone jack (on the top of the device)
    -speakers on the side
    -front facing camera -(guys Facebook, Google +, chat is now the “in thing”
    -rear facing camera- auto focus, LED,

    Just one more thing: Its the CONSUMER stupid.

    Thanks.

  4. Tablet cases Says:

    definitely second that motion. this applies not only to bigger brands like HP, but also to a bunch of smaller android tablet manufacturers that are only good for turning on and off

  5. sam Says:

    In years of buying gadgets and computers I have come to the conclusion that no one is going to match Apples design, build quality and software integration. After 20 years of laptops from so many companies the best laptops are still from Apple. This is going to continue with tablets and phones for some time. So the only thing that will make other tablets sell is to put out their cheap, badly designed products at half the price Apple sells it at. No one is going to buy a HP tablet for $499 when you can get a iPad for that price. at $250.00 hey maybe.

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