The HP TouchPad Needs Developers, Not Russell Brand

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If HP wants to succeed in making the TouchPad the go-to tablet for business, it needs more developers, and not necessarily a sales pitch from celebrity Russell Brand.

The English actor is serving as the spokesperson for HP's webOS tablet, starring in a series of commercials (cobbled together into this YouTube video) that offer a humorous look at some of the major features of the tablet. Brand walks users through summaries of the major functionality of the tablet with a balance of glowing marketing-speak and humor.

The problem here is the same as with RIM's approach to marketing the PlayBook. Consumers don't care about "true multitasking," "type to share," "synergy," or surfing with Flash. Businesses care even less about these things.

What they care about is what they can do with the device. And today, that's defined more so by the ecosystem of developers around the device than it is by the manufacturers of the device itself.

Android and iOS have largely usurped the smartphone space from RIM by focusing on making it easy for applications of all kinds--from Angry Birds to SAP. This transition largely powered the tsunami of the consumerization of IT where new technology products, particularly mobile devices, come into the workplace with the end user and are integrated into the existing IT infrastructure. That megatrend is one of the few shaping technology today, and has mitigated a good part of what could have been HP's advantage in the tablet space for business--the acceptance and buy-in of IT professionals.

Still, HP's got several advantages. It's got loyal customers at all sizes of business in a range of products, and a huge network of providers that work with small businesses to create full technology solutions. Those two factors alone could make the TouchPad a formidable business device.

In Video: HP's TouchPad Tablet Isn't Ready for Prime Time

In addition, it's got a webOS operating system that's well-received, full of function, and most importantly, should be easy for developers to build applications for, as it's based on Linux and Web-standard technologies.

But if HP, like RIM before it, wants to play Apple's game of selling glossy consumer products instead of making the tablet all about business and getting consumers that way, it's making a mistake.

I don't think the company's focus is entirely off the business opportunity; indeed, the executives who work with its partner base have been strongly promoting the TouchPad as a business product for months, and the company is one of the first to make its products readily available through the distributors from which its many resellers purchase products. CEO Léo Apotheker is constantly talking up the TouchPad as a business device, and hinting at a broad, cloud-based strategy that will tie together the tablet, applications, and enterprise IT into one neat package.

But as long as "there's an app for that" iPad and not the TouchPad, it doesn't matter who's promoting the device, or how many Flash Websites are all but useless on the iPad.

Between Apotheker's vision and its own outreach activities with mobile application developers, there are signs that HP recognizes this, but its competitors aren't sitting still either.

Bringing Brand on will surely give the TouchPad a boost in awareness in the general consumer community, but to capitalize on that awareness it has to have the applications that consumers-- and perhaps more importantly, businesses--want and need to run on the device.

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