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The HP TouchPad May Suck, but Here's How It Can Be Redeemed

The hyped HP TouchPad is out and the verdict is in: The would-be competitor to the Apple (APPL) iPad is mediocre at best. Lucky for HP, the critics liked the device, but hated the software. It's not too late for the TouchPad to do well, especially if HP fixes a few things immediately.

On the upside, the TouchPad price and specs are competitive with the iPad 2:

  • $500 for 16 GB and $600 for 32 GB, compared to the iPad 2's $499 and $599 price points
  • 9.7-inch touchscreen, slightly smaller than the iPad 2
  • 1.6 pounds, a few ounces heavier than Apple's device
There is no rear camera -- just a front one -- and only Wi-Fi right now, but critics say the hardware isn't the real problem with the TouchPad. It's the software.

Get more apps
As I predicted back in March, people buying the TouchPad today don't have much to download for it. The WSJ's Walt Mossberg explains it:

[T]he TouchPad will launch with just 300 tablet-optimized apps and only 6,200 webOS apps overall, most written for phones and only 70% of which can run on the tablet, in a small, phone-size window that can't be expanded. That compares with 425,000 total apps for the iPad and 200,000 for Android tablets, nearly all of which can run on tablets even if they aren't optimized for the tablet.

To reiterate, only two out of every three webOS phone apps actually run on the TouchPad, cutting the compatible apps down to about 4,100. The iPad only launched with a few hundred apps, too, but virtually every iPhone/iPod app could be used on it. Also, unlike the TouchPad, phone apps can fill up the whole iPad screen.

Getting developers to create exclusively for the TouchPad? It's way too late for that, especially with the lukewarm reviews. HP needs to focus on making tools so developers can easily translate their Apple iOS or Google (GOOG) Android apps to webOS. Rovio reportedly ported its money-maker Angry Birds from iOS to webOS in "a matter of hours", but if it was so easy for everyone, there would be more than 300 apps available at launch.

Stabilize the software
The software that is available right now isn't that impressive. The NYT's David Pogue said some apps take up to seven seconds to start. Others found Adobe (ADBE) Flash unstable -- a big problem considering that Flash is one of the few advantages the TouchPad has against the iPad 2.

In fact, most reviewers said it was riddled with software bugs, from dissapearing emails to crashing apps. Of course, problems are expected to be ironed out over time - but HP gave up the luxury of time when it decided to release the TouchPad after two generations of iPads.

HP needs to correct these basic stability issues as soon as possible. In fact, it would have been smarter to delay the TouchPad to get this stuff fixed. At this point, coming out a couple months later wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Get some media
As Mossberg and other critics pointed out, there is no streaming media app on the TouchPad. To put this in perspective, here are some of the media options on other tablets:

  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Crackle
  • HBO Go
  • ABC
How are we supposed to take it seriously as a tablet when one of its main uses isn't available yet? Netflix alone takes up 22 percent of the Internet's traffic with its movie streaming, and a good percentage of that is going to tablets like the iPad 2.

HP should have had at least one of these multimedia providers in pocket at launch. As it stands, even getting a third-tier streaming app would be better than none.

Photo courtesy of HP