The Tech-pert: The HP TouchPad Fire Sale and Other Epic Tech Fails
It’s official: the HP TouchPad is dead. Wait, what? Didn’t HP launch its much-ballyhooed iPad competitor just last month? And didn’t I review it just a few weeks ago? There must be some mistake. Nope. It’s just the latest in a long line of splashy, high-profile products that never amounted to anything. The TouchPad debuted to mixed reviews, praised for its slick WebOS-powered interface but dinged for its bulky design, limited app selection and less-than-competitive price.
Late last week, HP pulled the plug on the TouchPad, quickly clearing out inventory for the fire-sale price of $99.99 (for the 16GB model; the 32GB version went for $149.99). Interestingly, buyers didn’t seem to care that the OS would never see another update and that new apps would be few and far between; a 10-inch tablet for $100 was just too good to pass up. (It still is. If you can find one, my advice is to grab it.)
As we take a moment to mourn the TouchPad’s sudden demise, let’s look back at some other noteworthy products that crashed and burned.
Google’s answer to Apple TV made a big splash when it debuted last October, offering an Android-powered video-on-demand TV experience. But products like the $249 Logitech Revue failed to win many fans, in part due to its high price (the Apple TV was, and remains, $99), and in part because of its fragmented content and disappointing apps. Its Netflix implementation in particular was exceedingly poor, offering no search capabilities and an antiquated interface.
Sales picked up slightly last month when Logitech “pulled an HP” by slashing the Revue’s price to $99. But unless Google makes some major changes to the technology, history will record Google TV as a major flop.
Microsoft apparently never heard the old business maxim about under-promising and over-delivering. Instead the company promised the moon and delivered mud. Windows Vista was slow, expensive, intrusive (remember the incessant User Account Control prompts?) and stripped of many of the bleeding-edge features Microsoft had touted during the operating system’s development.
Consequently users stayed away in droves, instead clinging to “perfectly good” Windows XP. Only after a year’s worth of drubbing from the media did Microsoft finally get the hint that Vista sucked, bigtime, and would never gain acceptance. Thankfully, Windows 7 fixed most of what was wrong with Vista and closed an awful chapter in the history of Windows.
Proof positive that the electronics industry never learns from history and is therefore doomed to repeat it, HD DVD squared off against Blu-ray just like Betamax challenged VHS decades earlier. Both formats catered to newly popular HDTVs by showing glorious high-definition movies–a huge improvement over comparatively low-resolution DVD–but consumers didn’t want to get locked into one format or another.
Specifically, some player manufacturers and movie studios backed HD DVD; others championed Blu-ray. After nearly two years of competition, Blu-ray won the day leaving HD DVD adopters with instantly outdated hardware and/or media. And lest you think the electronics biz has learned its lesson, look at the growing competition between Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
The Zune had a real shot at being an iPod killer. Microsoft’s first MP3 player had features that Apple couldn’t match, at least at the time: an FM tuner, a voice recorder, Wi-Fi syncing, and support for Microsoft Zune Pass music subscription service which let you download all the music you wanted for about the price of a single CD.
Alas, the ugly, plasticky Zune had none of the iPod’s style and users balked at the confusing desktop software, DRM-heavy Marketplace, and (once the iPod Touch landed) lack of apps. Although the Zune scored its share of fans (I was one of them; I even wrote a book about it), it never really stood a chance against the Apple/iPod juggernaut.
The JooJoo Tablet
The backstory behind this ill-fated tablet is, sadly, more interesting than the device itself. TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington had partnered with Fusion Garage to develop a potentially game-changing tablet, something with a big screen, low price, and lightweight design. The CrunchPad had generated considerable buzz thanks to some sexy prototype photos and Arrington’s own reports on its development. And the iPad was still months away.
Then, the partners had a major fallout. Arrington walked away (citing “greed, jealousy, and miscommunication”), and Fusion Garage changed the tablet’s name, horrendously, to JooJoo. When it finally launched, critics were merciless–and the iPad debuted just days later. Needless to say, the JooJoo has been relegated to footnote status.
What epic fails make your “gadgets gone wrong” list? Add to the list in the comments below.
Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.