HP recently managed a couple of firsts in the Australian marketplace. It launched the TouchPad, a tablet competitor to the many Android tablets and Apple’s overachieving iPad 2, and in doing so launched the first device running WebOS onto the Australian marketplace. WebOS was an operating system originally developed by Palm — you may recall the PalmPilot, precursor to today’s wave of smartphones — and snapped up by HP last year for what was going to be a variety of phones and tablet devices. The phones never officially made it to Australian shores, but the $499/$599 (16/32GB) TouchPad would have been the first taste of WebOS for many consumers. It was officially launched through Harvey Norman with a blitz of advertising, and apparently within four days around 1200 TouchPads were sold; not a bad result for a new entrant in the competitive tablet space.
Then on the fourth day after its Australian launch, HP — a US based firm — announced it was ceasing all development in WebOS hardware worldwide, effectively killing off the Touchpad line. In the US this led to the remaining stock, which hadn’t been selling, shifting out of stores at US$99/$149 respectively, which was something of a bargain. Locally, Harvey Norman announced it’d offer refunds to any TouchPad customer who wanted one.
I’ve seen products fail to succeed locally, but never one die quite that fast. While there’s a happy enough ending for those purchasers in that they were offered refunds if they wanted one, it it does point to one of the perils of early adoption of technology. There’s a certain cool factor in having new technology first, especially if you can take advantage of its features first. I attended the launch of the Apple iPhone 4 where hundreds and hundreds of customers lined up outside Telstra, Optus and Vodafone/Three stores for the privilege of being early adopters. That’s as much a fashion statement as a desire to have new features first, but it’s still true that there can be benefits — as long as you avoid the pitfalls.
Early adopters have to deal with all the things that go wrong first, whether that’s a software error that makes things work unpredictably, or a stray or poorly built bit of hardware that overheats, undercharges or just outright explodes — although thankfully that latter case is remarkably rare.
You’re also stung with the financial cost of being an early adopter; in the case of the TouchPad in Australia that led to refunds, but while at $499/$599 HP was having trouble selling the TouchPad in the US, at $99/$149 they sold out almost immediately. Prices on technology drops in a relatively regular pattern, and often the best value you can get from technology is simply to have a little patience.