What’s going on with the HP TouchPad?

So, most likely, you’ve heard by now that HP announced on Thursday that they are discontinuing all of their webOS hardware. (I’m gonna single-source most of this, simply because it’s easier, and I generally like This Is My Next’s reporting. They link to their sources, so…)

Friday, reports began coming in that the TouchPad was being fire-saled at $99 and $149. At this price, they’re already sold out almost everywhere… except they keep popping back up in stock. And, HP’s site has a notifier for when they come back in stock – and it’s clearly aware of the fire sale.

What’s going on here?

So, when I heard that HP was discontinuing their webOS hardware, I first thought that webOS was doomed – after all, if the hardware was discontinued, nobody will want to touch the ecosystem, even any potential licensees (which HP has claimed they’re trying to do).

But, I think this is something different entirely.

I think one of two things has happened:

  1. HP was lying about discontinuing their webOS hardware. What’s interesting is that they’re coming back in and out of stock, here. Why would that be, if the hardware isn’t being made any more? And, they just updated things the day before shitcanning all of their hardware to say that the TouchPad 4G was coming out
  2. HP already has a licensee lined up.

If they’re lying about discontinuing their webOS hardware, this was one hell of a way to build a huge install base quickly – and now developers can’t say “nobody has webOS devices”. The fact that a product that HP is taking a massive loss on is being “found in warehouses” tells me this might be the case.

If they already have a licensee lined up, they need to keep the platform alive until that licensee is churning out hardware. So, the same strategy works – loss-leader TouchPads for everyone!

Only time will tell what’s actually right, though…

HP t5325 thin client, RISC OS, and maybe combining the two. Or just running Linux on it. Either way.

If you follow this blog, you may remember that I’ve mentioned RISC OS, the OS used on ARM-based computers made by Acorn Computers. The OS has a very loyal following, and as an “outsider,” I found it (and the hardware, for that matter) interesting.

However, as Acorn pulled out of the personal computer market in 1998, the community has had trouble obtaining hardware since. Many users still use circa 1997 RiscPCs with 200 or 233 MHz StrongARM CPUs, which just don’t cut it today. While there were a few clones made after the fall of Acorn, most notably the Iyonix (with a 600 MHz XScale,) and the A9home (with a 400 MHz Samsung ARM9-based system on chip,) these machines are expensive for what they are, and the Iyonix is no longer in production. It’s proven to be difficult to make custom hardware specifically for this market, as the RISC OS community can’t afford custom chips designed for RISC OS machines, so they’re required to use embedded chips that provide suboptimal performance, and the low volume causes extremely high hardware prices to make up for development and tooling costs.

But, ARM is now pushing their architecture into the netbook and nettop spaces, countering Intel’s attempt to move into ARM’s traditional smartphone and embedded spaces. This means that there’s now PC-class ARM hardware. And, the best part is, someone else is paying for the development, and ARM wants the volume to be huge.

Not only that, but Castle Technology, the company that makes the Iyonix, has released their version of RISC OS under a shared source license, to RISC OS Open. This has allowed developers to take advantage of the new ARM platforms. Right now, there’s a port to the Beagle Board, although it’s arguably not well suited towards desktop applications, due to its lack of any form of ATA support, and poor 2D graphics capabilities – the OMAP3530 chip that it’s based on is essentially a cell phone chip. Also, it’s a developer board, so there’s no good case for it. But, there’s an ARM platform that’s low-cost, commercially available, and does offer SATA, good 2D graphics, and a case. Continue reading