Hewlett-Packard’s decision to kill off its nascent tablet effort, the TouchPad, was stunning, but at least it seemed decisive. But now the company is muddying the waters by suggesting that the fate of HP’s webOS tablet isn’t sealed.
In an interview with Reuters, Todd Bradley, the head of HP’s Personal Systems Group (PSG) said the company could resurrect the TouchPad. “Tablet computing is a segment of the market that’s relevant, absolutely,” Bradley said.
So which is it? Is the TouchPad still in the mix or does HP still plan on jettisoning it? It may come down to whether HP can successfully spin-off PSG into its own company, which Bradley said was preferable to selling the computer business to another manufacturer. And Bradley expects to run the spin-off company if that happens.
But overall, it seems like more uncertainty and indecisiveness from HP, which is becoming its calling card of late. Bradley repeatedly talked about the TouchPad business as a marathon not a sprint, but the company then abruptly gave up on its webOS devices, while trying to figure out what it wants to do with the webOS operating system. The change seemed part of a larger move to remake HP into a business software and technology company similar to CEO Leo Apotheker’s last company SAP. Dow Jones columnist Al Lewis recently wrote that all the recent moves seemed to be part of a bigger plan to euthanize the company in one year.
For what it’s worth, I think it makes sense to hold on to webOS and the TouchPad and see what Bradley can do with it. And I can understand Bradley holding out hope for the TouchPad, if he can take over the PSG spin-off. Tablets are a fast-growing business that could be around for years to come and HP — or whatever spin-off that takes on the computer business — can benefit from the continued work behind the tablet.
And though it was an incomplete product, the TouchPad is still arguably the best challenger to the iPad. It’s now largely sold out thanks to a $99 fire sale. I hope Bradley isn’t motivated simply by the recent sales boost, which has more to do with the incredible price. It should be that the TouchPad is a solid product that is worth supporting and definitely should have gotten more than six weeks on the market.
Too bad that HP made such a mess of announcing its plans to get out of the PC business and end its webOS devices. With a little more patience and some smarter thinking, the company could be telling a more measured and confident narrative than the confusing one its muddling through. Instead of hinting at a resurrection, HP could have seemed a lot more composed and clear about its plans if it just showed more poise and patience. Now, it’s just adding more confusion and the company’s stock is taking the brunt for all this ham-fisted messaging.