After killing the TouchPad a near-record 45 days after launch, then discounting it in a clearance sale at as low as $99, HP opted to fire up its production line to make and ship more. A baffling decision, right? The rumor is that a backlog of parts inventory and unhappy suppliers—not informed of the cancellation until the rest of the world knew—make it smarter for HP to assemble more and sell them at a loss.
I tweeted at the time that this was the only case I could recall that a cancelled product by a major electronics manufacturer was taken back on the assembly line for another run. Sure, older models superseded by newer ones have sometimes been brought back into production for short or long periods. But an item that's singing with the choir invisible? A colleague in Australia, Tim McGuire, has a long memory, and a shelf full of back issues of NeXTWorld magazine. He sent me a clip and his permission to share it.
In mid-1993, a few months after CEO Steve Jobs had shuttered the NeXT factory, and was in the process of switching to an all-software company—a path that led to its later acquisition by Apple—the lights were turned back on in its Fremont, Calif., factory. NeXTWorld's rumor columnist, Lt. Sullivan, reported that the U.S. military and another undisclosed customer wanted more machines, and so NeXT was to fire up and spit 1,200 more devices out. (Dear readers, please explain the Lt. Sullivan reference?)
The TouchPad and webOS are unlikely to have the same sort of long-lasting legacy as NeXT. The NeXTSTEP operating system and its use of the Mach microkernel architecture led to a number of decisions that produced Mac OS X, which runs both Macs and iOS devices like the iPhone.
Glenn Fleishman, @glennf, is the editor and publisher of The Magazine, a fortnightly electronic periodical for curious people with a technical bent. Glenn hosts The New Disruptors, a podcast about connecting creators and makers to their audiences, and writes as “G.F.” at the Economist's Babbage blog. He is a regular panel member on the geeky media podcast The Incomparable. In October 2012, Glenn won Jeopardy! twice.