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HP abandons webOS; is Apple too tough to beat?

by Phil Hornshaw

It’s been only a few weeks since Hewlett-Packard released its first entry into the tablet market, built with its own operating system, webOS. But on an earnings call Thursday, HP announced that not only is it looking to spin off its PC business, the largest of its kind in the world, but it’s also discontinuing making webOS devices and its short-lived tablet experiment.

HP spent $1.2 billion to purchase Palm on the hopes of webOS. The company wanted to take the Apple approach, controlling both the hardware and software ecosystem of the device to create a well-designed user experience. And it seemed like a great idea from HP’s perspective, and one the company was investing a lot of money in.

According to a story from Mashable, though, HP’s webOS-running TouchPad hasn’t been selling well. Apparently, Best Buy stores have moved just 10 percent of their TouchPad inventory since the device’s launch. Here’s a quote from Mashable’s story:

In the press release detailing its preliminary Q3 2011 financial results, the company had this to say:

‘HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.’

The webOS-based TouchPad was seen by many (including Mashable) as a real competitor to Apple’s iPad. Our initial review of the device was lukewarm, but the device (and webOS itself) seemed full of potential.

It’s the dead sales, despite even price cuts, that has HP looking in other directions, and in a way, ceding the territory to the iPad. During the earnings call, the “tablet effect” on PC sales was even mentioned, which is to say, tablets (or more specifically, the iPad) are cutting into PC sales, and HP is looking for new ways to compete. Apparently, entering the tablet space isn’t one of them.

Can anyone stand-up to Apple’s iPad?

It would seem that the iPad has defeated HP, and that begs the question: Can any Android device really compete against Apple’s juggernaut?

Analysts seem to think so. They maintain that while Apple will remain a dominant force with the iPad for years to come, it can’t control the market forever the way it does now. Eventually, Android tabs will crack the code, be it by offering bargain devices at lower prices, or by refining the Android ecosystem until it can compete with iOS. But HP seemed to have the right idea and is abandoning ship incredibly early in the process, and it seemed to have the operating system problem more or less in-hand, perhaps more than Android.

But calling the game in Apple’s favor seems a little premature. Yes, right now, iOS is the superior experience to Android if for no other reason than by sheer volume of apps and the lack of compatibility issues with which devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 have to deal.

But Apple’s share of the market is steadily ebbing, even if by small increments, simply because the volume of devices is increasing. And the Galaxy Tab 10.1, by way of example, is a comparable device that really can stand against the iPad. It just needs more apps and more compatibility, and that takes time.

HP throwing in the towel doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the Android market. Just because it couldn’t find a good way to compete with the iPad doesn’t mean no one can. Apple is successful in the tablet market because it’s leading the pack in innovation, and rather than trying to catch up to Apple, Android developers would be better served to try to come up with the things that tablet users might want out of those devices: innovate, rather than replicate. With lots of Android devices and the openness of the software, this is certainly possible. Someone just needs to find the right idea.

Apple doesn’t own a patent on innovation, after all.