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HP TouchPad: It’s cheap, but is there a point for gamers?

Is the HP TouchPad the new Atari Lynx? Or is that doing Atari's (at the time) impressive portable handheld console a massive disservice? Adam Hartley answers the question.

"Is the HP TouchPad of any interest to gamers?" Pat asked the Twittersphere void earlier this week, with his online news-writer's four-nanosecond attention span no doubt jolted by the news that HP has given up on its long-failing webOS operating system and, as a result, has been forced to announce fire sales on the tablet.

I mean, we all know that consumer technology is advancing at a nonsensical rate these days, but the story of the HP TouchPad launch - and what it means for gamers and games developers - is nothing less than total and utter insanity.

Yay! It's here (June)

"Well, it’s official. If you saunter over to the HP Palm blog, you’ll get the full word and pricing and availability from my man, Jon Zilber," reads a post on the HP blog from back in June 2011.

Yes, that is less than two months ago.

And Lo. On July 1, starting at $499 (£307), it finally arrived! It was like the Apple iPad, but around the same price point and without any particularly interesting games or apps to speak of. And a slightly less pleasurable OS. And not even quite as interesting as the hundreds of slightly-better Android tablets sitting on the next shelf.

And now - less than two months on - HP has pulled all support of webOS and you can pop down to PC World and pick up a HP TouchPad for £89. Yet why would you want to? Can you play games on the thing?

App Unhappy HP chappies

To be at least slightly fair, the HP TouchPad does have some genuinely useful apps and half-decent games to help keep your brain from shutting down completely. It's got a Kindle app, so you can read all those books that you will likely never get round to reading on this device as well.

It's got the internet, it's got Facebook, it's got Rovio's Angry Birds. Obviously. And in HD as well. And why wouldn't it have? Move on gamers. Nothing more to see here.

It's got the HP App Catalogue, something of which it is probably best to just ignore and never speak about again. It's got a smattering of vaguely interesting music apps such as TuneIn Radio - which you already have on your iPhone or Android phone if you give a flying one.

It's got a bespoke version of EA's Need for Speed Hot Pursuit for HP TouchPad. It's got a free WeatherBug app. It's got a Time Magazine app.

Essentially, and let's not beat around the bush here, it's fucking shit. It's hardly worth £89, let alone £307. So why is everyone rushing out to buy one?

Back in June at E3, the HP blogger responsible for the hilariously over-the-top PR copywriting on the company's site wrote, in what appears to be all seriousness, the following words, referring to the HP TouchPad's potential as a console game motion tracker:

"Instead of making that [motion control] happen with a console controller, I’m imagining that sort of game-like functionality in your phone. Or on a TouchPad. As I walk around the show floor at E3 this year, I can’t help but think of how a ton of games I’m playing could be made that much more awesome by allowing me to interact with them in new ways – even when I’m nowhere near my PC.

"And the fact that webOS will be able to string all these experiences together gets me even more fired up for the future. Again, I'm not saying any of this is happening, I'm just getting excited about possibilities."

Two months on, following the collapse of webOS, one can only imagine that this poor sap's excitement levels are now somewhat closer to reality.

A strange week at HP

Let's look at what HP now has to tell us this week. Here's Paul Hunter today, head of HP PSG UK and Ireland:

"There’s no denying that it’s been a strange week at HP. I’ve spent 16 years with HP in the UK and I certainly can’t remember a time like it. But change happens, and I fundamentally believe that HP and PSG are stronger following the announcements surrounding webOS and PSG.

"Let me be absolutely clear in saying that at no stage has HP said it is quitting the PC business. Three options are being investigated, and whether the company is spun off, sold or kept in the HP portfolio, the team in the UK remains committed to creating and supporting great products and services.

"I’d like to reaffirm our commitment to our UK customers regarding both PC products and those that bought webOS devices. HP is the world’s largest PC manufacturer. We are the number one PC manufacturer in UK and Ireland. HP PSG UK is only going in one direction, forwards, and that means customers can have confidence that existing HP products will be supported under the terms of their warranties as will any future purchases."

High-grade PR guff

What you have just read, if you are still with us, is what we in the trade refer to as "absolute PR bullshit".

It really is top-quality marketing guff. And it continues; HP is apparently "fully committed to the ongoing support and service of customers who purchased webOS devices."

Back in the tedious world of reality, what HP's PR statement on this debacle actually means is something more along the lines of: "If you bought one of these things before we realised the whole escapade was a mug's game, then we can only pretend to be sorry. Still. Shit happens."

Selling point: HP TouchPad Android jailbreak

All of that said. If these latest rumours that the £89 HP TouchPad can now run an Android 2.2 jailbreak turn out to be true, I'm going to be the first one down at Comet on the Enfield retail park this weekend to snap one up.

Mind you, I'm still not sure why I want an Android tablet either. Does anybody even care about gaming on Android? As far as I can see, serious games developers make games for iOS and, should they magically turn a profit, they then consider porting them to Android. Clearly, you can correct me if you think I'm wrong. But I'm not.

So. To answer the question of the point of the HP Touchpad for gamers: there isn't one.

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