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MMObility: HP pulls the old switcharoo with the TouchPad


If you are one of the unlucky few who decided to pick up one of the new HP TouchPad tablet PCs, I feel bad for you. First of all, pretty much all of the reviews I have read said that the device was not worth its $500 price tag. For that amount of dough, the hardware should have been sleeker, beefier, and more stylish.

Then we heard the news this week that support for the device was being terminated. Shortly after that, news of price drops started to come out, and then tech geeks starting lining up. Sure, they wouldn't pay $500 for a sub-par device, but they would pay $100 for the chance to toy around with it. I've used this joke before, but it fits perfectly here: A farmer sticks a million-dollar price tag on a pile of cow dung and people laugh at him. He keeps the sign up for about a week before changing the price to one dollar. People line up around the block to get the discounted item. The farmer laughs... it turns out they were still just buying a pile of dung for a dollar.

Click past the cut and let's examine further!

HP logo
OK, OK, so I am being a little harsh on the HP TouchPad. It does have some power and capability, and even if you only use it for reading books or surfing the web, you'll probably get your money's worth. It should also be noted that there are already attempts at running different operating systems on it, thanks to some of the same people who hacked the popular Nook devices. Still, I am not sure that many of the people who would go and grab a $100 TouchPad would be willing or able to "hack" anything. I speculated before that there are essentially two types of mobile device users: those who use them and those who try to alter them. The two don't always cross.

I can see someone buying the TouchPad and getting some fun out of it, but in the end he still paid 100 dollars for a device that might be more trouble than it is worth. A touch screen is not the only way to surf the web. In fact, while I enjoy my iPad touchscreen as much as the next person, the tablet truly shines with apps that use the touch capability of the device to its fullest extent. There's something wonderful about playing certain games on a touchscreen that just doesn't work as well with a mouse and keyboard. The tablets also open users up to browsing and playing in new ways. Sure, you can watch TV and surf in bed with a common laptop, but the tablets make it even easier and more enjoyable. You can also slide your iPad into your purse (or man-purse) and be off without worrying about bulky charging cords or other addons. The tablets of the world (the good ones) truly are revolutionary.

So what happened to HP's version? Why didn't it succeed?

In my opinion, the device was too little too late. iPad already has the market cornered and is only growing larger. Sure, as an MMO gamer I was a little miffed with the lack of Flash or Unity support on the iPad, but now it makes perfect sense. Ninety percent of the "true" MMOs I play on my iPad are app-based. I play a few that run inside a browser thanks to advanced HTML, but most of my gaming is done thanks to the app market. Apple decided to cut out Flash support and thus cut out the possibility of users complaining about shoddy Flash performance. Developers have adapted and continue to make truly wonderful games for the iPad. Why would HP think that the market would bear another sub-par device that was essentially a weak touch-screen laptop? Any new or alternative device has to offer something truly different and special... just like the iPad did when it was launched.

"Frankly, the screen size will have to always remain relatively small in order for the tablet to be convenient, and at the current popular book size, tapping links or buttons with standard human-sized fingers can be somewhat clumsy."

When a successful device comes along, other companies copy it and hope for the best. What seems so odd is that the successful items are basically proof of what the consumer base might be expecting. If you make a knock-off attempt at the most successful tablet device in existence, why would you set it at the same price without the same reliability, style, weight, and functionality? Was HP just experimenting? Still, imagine if the TouchPads had been set at 300 dollars, or 250. Would they have pulled out a win? I'm not sure, but I think that generally when Apple owns a market, there is not much room for others.

To stay in line with what this column is about, I'm not as concerned anymore about a tablet device to use for portable MMO gaming. Frankly, the screen size will have to always remain relatively small in order for the tablet to be convenient, and at the current popular book size, tapping links or buttons with standard human-sized fingers can be somewhat clumsy. When you are simply browsing the web, you can zoom in to click on smaller text or links, but attempting to play a browser-based MMO can be frustrating. I bought a 20-dollar phone stylus and that helped a lot.

This is why I love the fact that most of my tablet MMOs are apps. They are designed to be played with your fingers, so the UI and control options are large or easy to use. Would I be so excited about a PC tablet that allowed me to play all of my Flash-based MMOs, even if I had to zoom in constantly just to use them, all while performance was poor? Perhaps this is why my next portable PC purchase is not going to be a tablet but a slightly nicer laptop than the one I have now. The mouse pointer still works wonderfully and reliably, and I'll continue to use my iPad alongside it.

So, did you score a 100-dollar TouchPad? If so, what do you plan on doing with it? If all goes well and you are able to use a supported OS on the device, you might get your money's worth. If not, then perhaps 50 dollars would be a good starting number when you list it on eBay! I expect we'll be seeing a lot of them popping up there over the next few months. It's too bad that the tablet market is still a little rough... I wouldn't mind trying a PC alternative to my iPad.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.

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