HP TouchPad firesale: The beginning of the end of Apple's tablet dominance?

Steve Ranger's Notebook: The mayfly of gadgets shows us what consumers really want from tablets..

The HP TouchPad might not have lasted very long, but it may show the way for tablet wannabes to compete with Apple's iPad, says silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.

In the last 24 hours, the HP TouchPad tablet has been generating the kind of excitement of which most gadget makers can only dream.

Last night, retailers' websites were buckling under the pressure of shoppers desperate to get hold of the TouchPad.

So how did HP manage this incredible feat, creating the sort of mania usually only reserved for Apple product launches?

Simple: they slashed the price of the six-week-old device from £349 to £89 for the 16GB TouchPad, and from £429 to £115 for the 32GB model, after abandoning the product which only launched last month.

In what must be the shortest life of any consumer gadget ever, the TouchPad was launched and rendered obsolete in less than two months - a victim of the wild success of the Apple iPad and a change in HP's corporate strategy which will see it shutter its webOS hardware business, the unit behind the TouchPad.

HP webOS

What can the HP TouchPad firesale tell us about the wider tablet market?Photo: HP

But for Apple's rivals, desperate to break into the tablet market that is still overwhelmingly dominated by the iPad, the demise and brief frenzy over the TouchPad does hold a couple of lessons mostly around pricing and functionality.

The good news is that if you make it cheap - and make it well - people will buy it. Not everyone needs all the capabilities of an iPad and, for someone looking for a tablet for browsing the web and watching video, £100 to £150 seems like a decent price for a piece of simple hardware.

There have been budget tablets around for a while but from the reviews I've read, they haven't had the performance or the hardware quality to be attractive to the masses.

It would seem like a good move for one of the big brands still in the market to bring out a quality, entry-level device. The question is whether any of them can swallow their ego long enough to do it. Most are focused on taking on the iPad at the high end and ignoring the low end - a strategy that has found them little success so far.

There's also been a lot of debate as to whether the iPad is going to be like the iPod or the iPhone - the iPod is the de facto choice for MP3 players, the iPhone is just one of many smartphones.

My sense is that the iPad will turn out to follow the same path as the iPhone - after a long lead, the opposition will get their act together, and consumers will be willing to buy hardware that isn't just from Apple, offering varying levels of functionality at equally diverse price points.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how consumers respond to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the likeliest contender at the high end now the TouchPad is out of the picture.

Perhaps the buying frenzy around the TouchPad could be the tipping point in the tablet market - the point at which people begin to get excited about, and willing to spend money on, kit that doesn't have a glowing apple icon on it.

Steve Ranger is the editor of silicon.com and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.

By Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was th...