A popular staple of comedies since the 1920s has been that of women shoppers battling each other over cut-rate products at a store sale. Which, perhaps, accounts for my perhaps unwarranted sense of amusement as, over the weekend, I watched tech shoppers -- male and female -- scramble to try to get their hands on the highly discounted HP TouchPad tablet.
The tablet debuted back in July to lukewarm reviews (our reviewer, Brian Nadel, said it was "chunky, overweight and lacks the apps that are needed to compete with the iPad"), and was originally priced at $399 for a 16GB model and $499 for a 32GB model. Suddenly, the discontinued device was available for $99 for the 16GB and $149 for the 32GB. So while the few unfortunates who had purchased the TouchPad at full price were returning theirs, people who hadn't even considered buying a tablet before were clicking frantically on various websites, credit cards in fist, trying to get one before they were sold out.
Rumors flew around all weekend. Best Buy had them but was refusing to sell them, preferring to send them back to HP. No, Best Buy had changed its mind and was putting them on sale after all. This particular Best Buy had them; no, it was sold out. You could get them at Walmart; no, they were sold out too.
Whether Best Buy had them in the stores or not, it wasn't selling them online, but you could get them at HP's Small & Medium Business site -- no, if you tried to buy one, you got an error message. Wait, they're back on sale. No, the $99 versions are sold out. Wait, I hear you can get one at the Barnes & Noble site... And so it went...
The frantic buying spree made headlines in major publications and blogs around the Web. For example, a column in USA Today described how the writer waited on line at two Best Buys and finally picked up a TouchPad at his second stop. "What am I going to do with it?" he finally asks. "I'm not sure yet."
Actually, there are some people who are quite sure. At least one site, Rootz Wiki, has introduced a project called Touchdroid to develop ways to port Android to the TouchPad, and Ubuntu enthusiasts are working on things from their end as well.
And hey -- a bargain is a bargain. Even a not-so-great discontinued tablet can make a decent e-reader or media player, and if you want a piece of tech to play with (and possibly to port another OS onto), this is a great way to get something for a good deal less than it cost to manufacture.
But I can't help wondering if a company will pop up smart enough to be able to create a decent tablet that can sell for $100 and still make a profit. Judging from the reaction of this weekend's bargain hunters, that company could become very popular.