TouchPad is no gaming giant, but it’s not “fucking shit”

By Keith Andrew, Sunday, 2 October 2011 08:54 GMT

PocketGamer’s Keith Andrew couldn’t stand idly by and watch Adam Hartley thrash HP Touchpad, although he concedes the doomed tablet isn’t exactly the first place gamers should turn.

I’m no fan of Nintendo’s 3DS, but if for some reason my local Spar started flogging them for £50 next to the tins of beans, I’d be the first to drop one into my basket. The wider issue is, if the ability to play the best games is the only real reason you’re buying a tablet, there’s no cause for you to look anywhere else but iPad.

“Let’s not beat around the bush here,” summarised VG247’s take on HP’s TouchPad in late August, a matter of days after the technology giant had unceremoniously dumped its debut tablet: “it’s fucking shit.”

It was that one line in what I considered an article littered with a host of errors that, I’ll readily admit, resulted in me losing my cool in front of the ‘Twitterati’.

An article picking apart TouchPad’s credentials as a suitable tablet for gamers I can handle, but one that brands the entire platform as a waste of space was always likely to press my buttons.

And all this, despite the fact that, when it comes to the issue the piece in question claimed to be concerned with – whether folk should stump up the £89 required merely to play games on the thing – I can’t find fault.

But as out of whack as I might consider VG247’s assessment to be, let me be straight here: if you’re looking for a tablet solely to play games on, don’t buy TouchPad.

Reality check

Well, at least, don’t only buy TouchPad. By the same token, I’m no fan of Nintendo’s 3DS, but if for some reason my local Spar started flogging them for £50 next to the tins of beans, I’d be the first to drop one into my basket.

The wider issue is, if the ability to play the best games is the only real reason you’re buying a tablet, there’s no cause for you to look anywhere else but iPad.

Each platform naturally has its own fans, and some will rightly argue there are a number of attractive Android tablets on the shelves worthy of your attention, but no device can compete with iPad when it comes to games. And it’s only by expanding this one, key, factor that both the reasons behind TouchPad’s demise, and the areas where VG247 was wide of the mark, become clear.

I wrote about HP’s decision to (to all intents and purposes) abandon webOS after the news was announced, highlighting just what could be learned from the sales surge that followed once TouchPad prices tumbled.

In contrast, VG247’s piece seemed to suggest that TouchPad’s lack of apps in comparison to either iPad or Android was because the platform itself was somehow sub-standard. In reality, and as I argued at the time, TouchPad’s more modest marketplace is simply a reflection of Apple’s dominance in the market.

App Store allure

This is no great mystery, but is nonetheless something tablet manufacturers the world over seem to overlook as they rush to get their respective devices to market: developers go where they think the money is, and, right now, the App Store is the biggest driver of downloads and the one with most support, regardless of what they think of the device itself.

As a result, what HP, Samsung, Motorola and RIM need to understand is, it’s not iPad’s technical specifications that sell the device. It’s not even the strength of the Apple brand. What draws people to iPad is the allure of the ecosystem: the 450,000 apps and access to the largest library of digital music on the planet.

No other platform can compete with that, and until they do (or, perhaps more reluctantly, realise they have to undercut iPad’s RRP by some distance), Apple will continue to grab up nine out of ten consumers while the majority of its rivals struggle to shift even a tenth of the numbers it amasses quarter after quarter.

It was HP’s inability to realise this, coupled with what would appear to be some internal politics at the company, that resulted in TouchPad’s short stint on the shop shelves – not the quality of the tablet itself.

The wonder of webOS

Yes, believe it or not, TouchPad is anything but “fucking shit”. Having spent a week using both it and an iOS 5 equipped iPad 2 for the purposes of a comparison piece, it was refreshing to discover that there are actually a number of areas where HP’s soon-to-be dead device actually outperforms its thinner, flasher rival.

Multitasking, for instance, is webOS’s signature. Apps open up in mini pages on the main desktop, with any links you click or actions you make within that app appearing in the same stack. In this way, it’s easy to slide between any apps you have open and dismiss them accordingly, simply by brushing them off the top of the screen with your finger.

Indeed, webOS’s full range of gesture based controls are another stand out feature. You can both minimise apps and close them down completely without ever needing to touch the home key or any virtual buttons – a set up that, when combined with its approach to multitasking – makes iOS feel archaic at times.

And you know the over-the-air updates set to be rolled out with iOS 5 that Apple zealots have been going mad about for months now? TouchPad has been able to do that particular trick since day one.

Now, I’m in no way suggesting TouchPad was ever going to be an iPad killer – doing so given its current predicament would be rather mad, to say the least – but it’s as misinformed as it is lazy to brand it in any way substandard. Speak to most mobile developers who have any experience of the platform – even those who never actually worked on it – and you’ll find very few who have all too many bad words to say about it.

Lessons to learn

As such, I find it hard to stomach the original article’s assertion that it is a “slightly less pleasurable OS” than iOS. Equally alarming is VG247’s recommendation that its readers check out the Kindle app – if you live in the UK, you’ll soon discover it hasn’t got one.

The suggestion that the ‘HP App Catalogue (sic)’ is “probably best to just ignore” seems to suggest it’s some kind of unique, but faulty TouchPad feature. It’s not – App Catalog is the tablet’s app store, and ignoring it would be bizarre if you want to get any use out of it at all.

As a result of all this, I have to question the extent of the original author’s experience with TouchPad full stop, because all such comments to me smack of someone whose ‘hands on’ with the device may well be limited to a quick fumble around with the display unit at their local branch of Curry’s – that’s something I sincerely hope I’m entirely wrong about.

But it’s the propagation of misinformation like this that threatens to do real damage – both in terms of gamers weighing up whether to go on the hunt for a cheap TouchPad or not, and on a grander scale, the legacy HP’s device leaves behind for those still in the game.

HP didn’t have the patience to see the fight through – those who had originally led the charge for the buyout of Palm appear to now be out of the picture, the current line-up obviously reluctant to take the financial hit required to secure a swift land grab.

Others, too, will need to evaluate just what they’re looking to achieve with their tablets, and how far they’re willing to suffer in the short term for hope of gaining on Apple in the long term. TouchPad will forever stand as a painful example of what fate awaits them if they stumble.

What it isn’t, however, is a shoddy product. Gamer or not, my advice to anyone who spots one in the digital bargain bin, or happens across a lone unit on a dusty shop shelf is, place that order, stride up to that till, and open your wallet without a second thought. Let’s not beat around the bush here, at that price, it’d be a bit fucking shit if you didn’t.

Keith Andrew is news editor at PocketGamer.biz.

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