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HP's $US99 TouchPad tablet selling out in retailer fire sale

TouchPads were picked up fast by customers happy with the bargain-basement prices

Some retailers sold out remaining Hewlett-Packard TouchPad tablets in just a few hours on Saturday after heavily discounted prices attracted buyers to the last remaining units of the soon-to-be defunct tablet.

The TouchPad models cleared out by early morning at the Best Buy and Staples stores in New York City's Union Square, salespeople at the stores said. A salesman at Best Buy said that buyers were streaming in overnight to buy the tablets and were attracted by the price of the TouchPads, which was $99 for 16GB of storage, and $150 for 32GB of storage.

Heavily discounted Palm smartphones were also picked up and cleared at the Best Buy store, and stocks of phones and tablets will not be refreshed, the salesman said. Best Buy has stopped selling the TouchPad on its website, and HP has run out of TouchPads on its retail site, where prices were also listed as starting at $99.

The fire sale came just two days after HP said it was looking to sell or spin-off its Personal Systems Group, which markets PCs and mobile devices. HP also said it would immediately stop development of the TouchPad, just a little over a month after the first models went on sale. The company also is discontinuing development and sale of the smartphones, including the Pre and Veer. The devices run on the webOS software, and the company said it would continue development of the OS platform and explore business opportunities around the OS, including licensing it to hardware makers.

The TouchPad went on sale in early July, but it couldn't compete against Apple's iPad and tablets running on Google's Android OS. The TouchPad was also criticized for its bulkiness, slow performance and underdeveloped software ecosystem. By the end of July, HP was offering $50 "instant rebates" to boost sales, and cut the price by $100 the following week. A TouchPad model with 16GB of storage was originally $499, and a 32GB model was $599.

To allay customer fears, Best Buy extended its 14-day return and price-matching policy for those who bought TouchPads prior to the fire sale.

"Best Buy is extending its return/exchange policy on the HP TouchPad and all HP TouchPad accessories to 60 days. Come into a Best Buy store and we will help you find another tablet to fit your needs or issue you a refund," Best Buy said on its website.

The early TouchPads were purchased either by gadget enthusiasts or developers, some of whom already owned iPad or Android devices. They were curious to see how webOS would perform, and some were looking for an alternative.

Brent Woodruff, a computer engineer in Tallahassee, Florida, picked up a TouchPad on the first day, but was blind-sided by HP's quick exit from the market. He returned his TouchPad to Best Buy and picked up an iPad 2 in exchange.

Woodruff considered purchasing a Veer smartphone in passing if a good deal popped up, but is glad he did not pick up the phone.

"At $100 or $150 they would be worth it as a developer's toy since I still like the OS. As it is now, with [Apple's] iCloud and iOS coming, and with it bringing many of the features I liked about webOS, and with the Macs already in the household, this made the most sense," Woodruff said in an e-mail interview.

Woodruff questioned HP on its continued promise to develop webOS, and that was one of the reasons he returned the TouchPad. Despite HP's commitment to webOS, Woodruff worried about the App Catalog, and also was concerned about the shutdown of some back-end services critical to retaining profiles.

"I really, really hope someone picks up webOS and goes somewhere with it. I'd happily pass my iPad 2 on to a family member if another company starts running strong with it," Woodruff said.

Despite discontinuing hardware sales, HP said it will continue support and development of the webOS, according to a blog entry earlier this week.

"We will continue to support, innovate and develop the webOS App Catalog. Our intent is to enhance our merchandising and presentation of your great products and to continue to build our webOS app ecosystem, said HP's Chuq Von Rospach, in a blog entry on the Palm website.

Tags business issueshardware systemstabletsbusiness managementHewlett-Packard

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