2012-02-25 21:53 Putting Android on the HP Touchpad

Post date: Feb 26, 2012 5:47:42 AM

Late in 2011 HP killed their TouchPad business. If you don't have one, chances are you can't find a new one to buy. It is only one of several decisions that HP made around that time and it is really a pity. HP bought Palm for about $1.2 billion (with a B) in 2010 and got with it the WebOS platform. The WebOS platform is something like Android, it is built on Linux just like Android and designed to be App driven and touch interface friendly. The Palm Pre came out to rave reviews on the Sprint network in 2009, but it didn't rack up a lot of sales. iPhone and Android basically ruled the roost, but nobody argued that WebOS (what Palm Pre was running) wasn't a good system, it just didn't have the millions of bodies driving it that the competitors did.HP tried to make a bid to get into the mobile business but business was bad, and sales there and in the end user business weren't making a lot of profit. The iPad and the iPhone ran the show and HP couldn't get people to buy basically the same product for the same price when everybody knew what iPads were and didn't know what TouchPads were. Workstations weren't making much profit. The whole consumer sales business was really barely turning a profit in the struggling economy of the time. It is obvious what motivated them to decide to just get shut of the whole consumer business and focus on selling servers. Obvious or not, it shocked a lot of people, particularly shareholders. There was a bit of a rebellion that eventually resulted in the CEO making those decisions being switched for a new CEO that would reverse that position.With the TouchPad born in a bad economy, amidst a huge company refocusing and re-refocusing, sales were poor. No surprise, this killed the already struggling TouchPad business and HP decided to stop producing them. Then they started selling the inventory they had at fire sale prices. A few serious geeks and bargain hunters got new TouchPads at $400 to $450 discounts (depending on model and vendor) and they loved them and wrote great things about them. A few months later, HP set up an eBay sale to finish selling remaining stock, this time selling the refurbished ones at the same prices.  They cost about $150 instead of the original $600 for the 32 GB version but they were selling the $500 version for $99 and that got all the attention. Originally the sale was to be announced to HP employees so they'd get first crack at them, but news didn't take long to get out. When the sale started, HPs eBay site basically ground to a halt from all the people trying to get their order in. I managed to get two as gifts, but I don't think I could have if I'd been aiming for the cheaper version.

The TouchPads came with WebOS. It's a really nice interface, but there aren't a huge number of users, so some people have set out to put Android on the TouchPads. HP is okay with this, but of course modifying your tablet voids your warranty (maybe.)  I knew of these modifications and suggested it as a possibility but both TouchPad users were reluctant at first to modify a perfectly usable system with a questionable one. WebOS was then released as open source, which means that anyone can now make modifications and improvements to it, further making the case that sticking with it is a solid plan. Yet, WebOS doesn't have nearly the number and variety of Apps that Android does and eventually the users of the TouchPads I'd given as gifts started to wonder if maybe there wasn't something they wanted to do that the modification would allow. Reluctance to change carried the day until my daughter locked herself out of her TouchPad and we had to reset it to factory defaults to get it to work. Nothing she'd saved on it was there anymore and feeling she had little to loose, she decided to give Android a try.

It was really easy, and I have to say that the guys who have put the software, guides and videos together have done a great job. I watched the video, read the instructions, re-read the instructions, went through the comments and installed it on the TouchPad. My favorite guide is the one on howtogeek and it was a tremendous source of confidence. The install went very smoothly. Excitement with the new system was nearly shocking, but Android was invariably compared to the WebOS system at every turn. It turns out that my daughter prefers the WebOS system, which is still present, for most things, but there are a couple things that are easier or work only with Android, so all in all it is a successful and worthwhile experience. After comparing notes, the other TouchPad user also wanted to have Android as an option and that install went as smoothly as the first one. The biggest hurdle was getting the TouchPad back to a reasonable charge. Both TouchPad users tend to run the battery down to minimal charge and it took me a while to figure out how to get them charged sufficiently to get started. The key is to use the charger that came with them, and not the USB plugged into the computer and not the USB AC/DC adapter I already had handy.

Here are some notes to take from my experience: