Monday 29 February 2016

HP TouchPad, Pre 3 and Veer: Palm’s last throw of the dice

Announced February 2011

The history of Palm is a long and complex one, starting in the early 1990s and then going through a series of splits and mergers over the years, cumulating in HP’s takeover of the company in 2010. Palm fans hoped that HP’s resources would save the struggling company and its innovative webOS operating system, and hopes were buoyed by a launch of three related products in February 2011.

These three devices had dropped the “Palm” name, but they were still true to their roots. The HP TouchPad tablet, plus the HP Pre 3 and compact HP Veer smartphones added a significant layer of polish to preview webOS devices, and fans were encouraged by these new developments, especially the TouchPad.

HP TouchPad

The TouchPad had a 9.7” 768 x 1028 pixel display,  a dual-core 1.2GHz processor with 1GB of RAM and 16 or 32GB of storage. There was single front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera for video calling. Initially it was a WiFi-only device with a 4G version promised.

The Pre 3 had a 3.6” 480 x 800 pixel touchscreen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, plus a 5 megapixel primary camera, 0.3 megapixel secondary one plus 8GB of storage and 512MB of RAM. The last of the trio was the Veer, which was pretty similar to the Pres 3 but with a 2.6” 320 x 400 pixel screen instead and a somewhat lesser feature set.

The Veer hit US retailers in May, the TouchPad hit the stores in July at a rather pricey $600 for the 32GB version and the Pre 3 was launched in the UK on 17th August 2011. But what happened next shocked both fans and observers alike.

It was always likely that the TouchPad would not sell as well as the iPad 2, but in fact sales were disastrous with only a few thousand units shipping in the first month. HP’s response was brutal. The day after the Pre 3 was launched in the UK, HP announced the cancellation of the entire line of webOS devices... forever. At this point, the TouchPad had been on the market for just 49 days and the Pre 3 had never even made it to the US.

HP immediately announced a fire sale of HP devices, slashing around 80% from the retail price. The result was that stock sold out almost immediately everywhere, any many retailers found their websites falling over under the sheet weight of traffic.

HP Veer and Pre 3
A strange situation developed – the TouchPad had become hugely popular device and to give HP credit, they supported it very well for several years. A decent range of applications were available and many people who were just looking for a cheap tablet found themselves very impressed by the elegant design of the webOS environment.

It didn’t take long for enthusiasts such as the crowd at Cyanogenmod to look at ways of porting Android to the TouchPad and it’s very high-quality hardware platform. As support for webOS began to wane, the only viable option was the sometimes complex process of installing a new operating system. But even today, these tablets are still viable devices if installed with a recent version of Android.

It was a dramatic end for Palm, and it was also a disaster for HP who had to write off the billion-dollar acquisition of Palm plus a loss of hundreds of dollars on each tablet and smartphone sold off at rock-bottom prices.

However, the story does quite end there. HP wondered what it could do with webOS, and after a great deal of deliberation they eventually sold it to LG where it ended up as an operating system in Smart TVs and other appliances. The Palm brand itself was bought by TCL (who make Alcatel-branded phones) who are looking at reviving it for a range of Android smartphones.*

So perhaps, it is just possible that the HP fiasco of half a decade ago isn’t the last time you might come across a Palm product..

* Just for another weird twist.. TCL use the Alcatel brand under licence from Alcatel-Lucent who dropped out of making phones, and that company recently came under the control of Nokia, another company that no longer makes phones. 

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