Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Product Management Lessons in HP TouchPad

On July 1st 2011, HP started shipping TouchPad, HP's tablet computer and competitor to Apple's iPad. Congratulation for the launch. Its a bold move by HP, but a necessary one in the present conditions.

In last few days, there has been a dulge of article reviewing & comparing HP TouchPad with similar products. So I won't do any comparison or write a review of TouchPad. Instead I will use HP as an example in identifying lessons on product management and write about that.

Lessons in Product Positioning

Pick any business strategy text book and you will find a chapter on pricing and product positioning. What the text book says about product positioning can be summarised in three points:

To win in a market place a product has to be:

1. Positioned at a lower price than the market leader - but the product must acheive parity in terms of performance/features/functionality.

2. Positioned at a superior product than the market leader - but the product must acheive parity in terms of pricing.

3. Positioned as a premium product, priced very high when compared to the market leader - but it must appeal to market as a luxury premium lifestyle product.

Looking at TouchPad, it seems that the product positioning has failed on all three points.

HP TouchPad is priced on par with iPad, but it falls way short in terms of functionality or features. TouchPad runs on WebOS, which is a new platform and as a result the security, stability of the platform is still untested in the marketplace. As a new platform, HP TouchPad has far too fewer apps - which makes the device less valuable.

HP TouchPad has failed to create a superior positioning in the marketplace - even though it has achieved price parity. This is strike-1.

Few minor design flaws with HP TouchPad are:

1. Its overweight when compared to iPad
2. Poor display quality when compared to iPad
3. No front & back camera
4. Shorter battery life.
5. No smart cover
6. No HDMI out port.

Few good points in HP TouchPad
1. Micro USB for mass storage & charging
2. Better keyboard design

Lessons in Product Line up

HP TouchPad is currently available only with WiFi option, and HP claims that the 4G option will be available later this year.

This is a clear blunder, tablets are seen as totally mobile personal device. I.e, like cellphones customers expect to take their tablets with them to meetings, malls, vacation etc. Not having a 3G and CDMA option makes the product unattractive to most customers.

Also in the global makets, 4G is not yet popular, in most places there is only 3G network, and often 3G is the preferred Internet connectivity (like in India). Lack of 3G connectivity simply means that HP has deliberately chosen to ignore the vast Asian market.

While 4G network offers superior bandwidth, HP TouchPad device itself does not have applications that can make use of the 4G bandwidth (>100Mbps). This to me is a meaningless feature. (Its like a car designed to travel at 400 MPH, while the roads are designed for 100 MPH)

Another minor design fault with HP TouchPad is lack of 64GB memory models and lack of expandable memory.

Lack of Connectivity options is Strike-2

Instead, HP could have opted for 3G and 2.5G connetivity for a wider appeal, and then introduce a 4G model when applications have been developed.

Consumer or Enterprise

Every product must be designed and positioned to an appropriate market position. In case of Apple - its primarily positioned as a lifestyle product aimed at the consumer. HP has not explicitly designed the table for consumer market nor is it positioned for enterprise market. This lack of calrity in positioning will spell doom for the device.

There is no supporting eco-system designed and built to support the TouchPad unlike its main competitors: Apple & Google. Apple had a head start with iPod, iPhone devices, and accordingly built an active ecosystem with iTunes, App Store, and iCloud (coming soon). Similarly, Google has built Google Docs, Google Apps, YouTube and Andriod Apps.

Lack of eco-system is Strike-3.

In short, HP TouchPad is "Dead-On-Arrival" in the tablet market place. Only die hard fans of HP will buy it. (Which can run in several thousands - when you count all the HP employees, Distributors, sales partners, etc)

Next Steps for HP TouchPad

To be fair to HP, TouchPad is like a just born baby, a Version 1.0 product. HP designers should go back to the drawing boards and fix some of the design flaws, HP product management should start building a robust eco-system designed for enterprise markets (see: Product Management - How to beat the iPad?), HP management should figure out the right positioning and pricing for the product, and then release Version 2.0 which has addressed all these issues.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight. As a product manager in the educational software market, I have been trying to figure out the benefits to the various tablets coming to market and seeing if there is anyone that can challenge the iPad.

Arun Kottolli said...

On August 19th 2011, HP finally pulled the plug on TOuchpad and its entire PC line. As I had mentioned earlier - the Touchpad was a disaster.

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