Why won't HP's TouchPad die?

HP TouchPad
HP's TouchPad: the Lazarus of tablet tech

The HP TouchPad is beginning to resemble the baddie from a rubbish horror movie: just when you think it's finally dead, it pops up all over again. "Let's take a walk through the cemetery at midnight," you'll say, then - "aaaagh! TouchPad!" Or maybe you're at home, feeling peckish, and you reach for the Monster Munch. "Aaaagh! TouchPad!"

The latest bit of "aaaagh! TouchPad!" news comes via HP, whose personal systems boss Todd Bradley has indicated that the firm might not be walking away from tablets after all.

Not only that, but HP is making some more TouchPads so it can lose a bit more money. I'm not making this up. "HP will be manufacturing a limited quantity of TouchPads with webOS during our fourth fiscal quarter 2011, which ends October 31," the firm says on its official blog. Not "HP did", but "HP will."

Aaagh! TouchPad!

Marketing, surprise or insanity?

There are only three possible explanations for HP's bizarre behaviour. One, marketing. Two, surprise. And three, insanity.

Marketing first. Perhaps the whole TouchPad fire sale was the most impressive, risky and expensive marketing campaign the tech industry has ever seen: by cutting prices to ASDA levels HP has turned the TouchPad from a turkey into a major player and paved the way for its next TouchPad to be an enormous success.

Or maybe it's surprise: HP genuinely didn't expect to sell so many TouchPads, and as a result it's re-assessing its strategy in the light of new information. "We've sold oodles of these things now," the firm might be thinking. "Surely we can capitalise on that?" The Guardian suggests that the final batch of TouchPads isn't being made to lose more money, but to use up excess inventory. Maybe it's right.

My money's on option three, though: insanity. Rather than do its brainstorming, its blue sky thinking, its running ideas up the flagpole to see who salutes them behind closed doors, it's doing it in public via press statements, interviews and blogs.

Hence the apparent confusion, with Exec 1 saying the TouchPad's dead, Exec 2 promising to build some more, Exec 3 proposing that future TouchPads come with a free horse and Exec 4 running around screaming "aaagh! TouchPad!"

It's easy to mock - that's what I like about it; it's easy - but the messing around does have serious consequences: with HP apparently unable to decide whether it's in the tablet business or not or whether it wants to carry on with webOS or not, HP is keeping the TouchPad and webOS in limbo, their futures uncertain. If HP really knows what it's doing, it's doing an excellent job of pretending otherwise.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.