With fresh TouchPad batch, HP Emulates NeXT

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 Sure, older models superseded by newer ones have sometimes been brought back into production for short or long periods.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.


  1. Except NeXT hardware was a thing of beauty … there’s not much that’s all appealing about HP’s hardware…

  2. There is a rumour going around that HP will produce a batch of DEC DS10s. The second hand market is very strong. Big companies are buying gear from hobbyists. That sort of stuff.

    I bought one of the $99 touchpads and I love it.

    Incidentally I am unable to view disqus comment threads on chromium. I spent some time debugging it today. I reckon its the big block of javascript right after the disqus div blocks. So I have to post from firefox.

  3. Dirty little secret Jobs doesn’t bring up, NeXT was largely sustained by sales to the three letter agencies.


    “It’s useful to point out that NeXTSTEP, while a very highly regarded
    product from 1988 through Apple’s late-1996 acquisition, was mostly a
    commercial failure. The company created high profile partnerships with
    IBM, HP and Sun, all of which abandoned NeXT before actually delivering
    anything. But what products NeXT did build got respect. And those that
    paid a premium for them did so for high end reasons, among them being
    the CIA and NSA
    , brokerage houses, cutting edge developers, even the
    creator of the web itself.”


    It was also used by many American federal agencies, such as Naval Research Laboratory, the National Security Agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.[40]

    1. He sold them a few boxes? That’s your idea of a “dirty little secret”? Don’t look at the Wikipedia article for something called ARPANET, then…

    2. hmm, I didn’t know about the three-letter agency connection to NeXT. I wonder if the on-board, programmable DSP chip on the NeXTStation (it had the Motorola 56001) was used by the govt. for encryption processing. Or maybe they just wanted black computers to go with their black vans.

      A bit of irony is that former presidential candidate and billionaire Ross Perot was a major investor in NeXT, but dropped out of the campaign under puzzling circumstances. The official story was that he thought the Bush Sr. camp planned to smear his daughter’s wedding, but I remember a lot of whispered rumors back then that the CIA (and Bush Sr. was director of the CIA for a short time) had put the squeeze on him. Makes more sense than dropping out because of a few doctored photographs. It’s a shame though; I wonder what the US would be like without the damage done by globalization — Perot was the only candidate that was against NAFTA. He was a dying breed of CEO that still included patriotism as part of the job. And if nothing else, it would’ve opened up the system to more than two (one) parties. Even a tough-as-nails billionaire like Perot couldn’t go up against our whole corrupt system I guess.  Well I appear to have drifted far, far off topic..

      1. “I wonder if the on-board, programmable DSP chip on the NeXTStation (it had the Motorola 56001) was used by the govt. for encryption processing.”

        Perhaps, but the main reason for those was to support CD-quality audio processing and synthesis. 

        There was a company that sold a card for the Cube with five 56001s on it, and a French music and acoustics institute designed and sold cards with a 56001 and two Intel i860 RISC CPUs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISPW

  4. I scored a 32GB touchpad. I love it. I’ll probably jump to the Cyanogenmod Android port as soon as it’s ready, though. The WebOS software is a little too weak for my taste. I mean, come on. You can’t access samba or windows shares? No netflix?

    WebOS is nice and fast, but the software just isn’t there and the basic functionality an OS should have is a lacking.

  5. 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?)

    I’m not sure what there is to explain. Computer magazines in the early to mid 1990s liked to have rumor columns accredited to a false persona. Lt Sullivan’s backstory was that he was a spy — which is, given that spy agencies were major NeXT customers (if a previous comment is correct), rather ironic.

  6. Apple will eventually realize a rock bottom low cost pad that does sacrifice on flash and features would be a big seller. Tim Cook, I’m looking at you. (Good luck, man.) It’s the only market left!

    I’ve put off luxury purchases for the last ten years, but I dropped $330 on two touchpads plus tax and shipping. At the very least I’ve bought two competent e-book readers.

  7. Apple’s eventual realization that it could make a killing by selling low-margin items at rock-bottom prices is always on the cards, but never really seems imminent. Eventually!

    1. I know! With $76 billion in the bank made on quality, high-profit devices, you’d think they would be just itching to make less money on products that would require higher support costs.

  8. At 100$ the touchpad was a no-brainer. 

    I mean, that’s the cost of a poor quality childs toy. That’s the pricepoint people were trying to hit for a computer designed for the starving third-world. That’s the price of a decent digital photo frame, and less than you’d spend for a decent ebook reader. And since we’re all extremely jaded, let me remind you of just how incredible the actual hardware is. Dual core processor, gorilla glass, beautiful screen, a gig of ram, an awesome set of onboard speakers. 

    If you’d have shown me a touchpad 10 years ago, I would have had to assume you were either a: a witch, or b: an alien. It’s an insanely long battery life supercomputer (mine’s running dual core 1.836 ghz), with awesome multitasking, full web reproduction (including hulu if you know what you’re doing), and it’s 14mm thick. There’s the old saying that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and I’m telling you all right now, this thing is magical. 100$? I’d have bought 10 if I could have gotten my hands on them. At 400-600$ I could easily find reasons to avoid buying one (I mean, at that price I couldn’t see an advantage over simply buying a nice laptop). At 100$ I =gave= one to my 2 year old without honestly worrying about it (and btw, he -loves- his touchpad, he can already operate it, open the launcher, play games like angry birds, and surf youtube). Thanks to a decent case and the gorilla glass it’s successfully survived floor-duty without a scratch. 

    Hell, I liked the touchpad so much I decided to give a little back. I wrote a guide over at the precentral forums – if you bought a touchpad and haven’t fiddled with it just yet you aught to read this:


    That’s up over 37,000 views now and basically describes how to tweak the touchpad for an AMAZING change in it’s usability, enjoyment, and speed. I wrote up how to get rid of all the processor-sapping logging that’s going on (the touchpad logs EVERYTHING and sends info back to HP every day, stopping this process makes it considerably snappier), how to overclock the pad, how to get homebrew rolling on the pad (it’s a -very- open platform that supports homebrew, this is extremely easy), how to get hulu working, how to get ubuntu running on it (chromium, on a touchpad!), etc etc etc.

  9. I will buy one for 100 bucks!  nothing says “petit bourgeois largesse” like two underutilized sub-300 tablets.

    I do so dearly love my nook color.

  10. One of the people who made the buying decision for NeXTs at a three-letter agency ended up getting in a lot of trouble, as he also owned a lot of shares of NeXT.
    That being said, using one in ’90 felt a lot like using a magical supercomputer. It had a lot of features that I’d never seen before, like display postscript, an optical drive, and those 68040 processors were *fast* at multitasking!
    Of course, today your phone out performs it by orders of magnitude, but just think what your wristwatch will do in 2031.

  11. “One of the people who made the buying decision for NeXTs at a three-letter agency ended up getting in a lot of trouble, as he also owned a lot of shares of NeXT.”

    NeXT was private, so it’s highly doubtful that anyone in government had shares.

  12. A big driver behind the three letter agency support was early grid / cloud type software that could be created and executed on NeXT machines due to the MACH kernel and some clever software.  If you think one DSP is fun, see what happens when you link a few hundred of them together.  I seem to recall Richard Crandall had something to do with that.

  13. I heard from HP last night mine are “on the way”. It took about three hours to order them due to site overload, but I am looking forward to getting them.

    HP Small and Medium Business Customer,
    Thank you for your interest in webOS and the HP TouchPad – the
    response to our price reduction has been overwhelming – both in terms of
    volume and in the energy and enthusiasm it has generated in our

    It has taken us longer than anticipated to work through the high
    volume of orders that were received. We apologize for any uncertainty
    this caused, but we are now in a position to understand our ability to
    fulfill your order.

    Your order will be fulfilled at the discounted price. However, we do
    not have enough stock to satisfy your order at this time. It will take
    6-8 weeks to build enough HP TouchPads to meet our current commitments,
    during which time your order will then ship from this stock with free
    ground shipping. You will receive a shipping notification with tracking
    number once your order has shipped. We apologize that these timelines
    are longer than indicated on the website at time of purchase.
    If this delay is not acceptable, please send an email to TouchPadCancel@hp.com
    with your instructions for cancellation within a week. Be sure to
    include your HP order number and the name and ship-to address on the
    order. Also please indicate clearly if this is the only order requiring
    cancellation or if you wish all orders in your name to be canceled. You
    will receive an automated cancel notification when your order
    cancellation request has been processed. Please be aware, however, that
    cancellations cannot be reversed, and our US SMB store has sold out of
    HP TouchPad and will not make any further available for sale.  

    We are pleased that we will be able to fulfill your order and look forward to you joining the exciting community of webOS!

    1. That seems like a reasonable response with out a lot of BS run around. Good for you.

      But I take this opportunity  to mention that were you just a regular customer instead of a ‘Small and Medium Business Customer’ their message probably would have read more like ‘eat shit and die, you’ll get whatever we send and like it, even if it’s a flaming bad of dog-doo.’ It’s nothing personal toward you. I’m glad somebody gets treated decent enough by HP customer service.

      This is more of an open message to HP’s consumer customer service department which should read more like, ‘go F yourselves and your damnable BS runaround. Never. Again. HP. Never. Again. I hope you go belly up in less than a year from all this. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of cube rats.’ (disclaimer, I know it’s not really the cubical minions fault, but those at the top that came up with the script and the no help service concept should seriously go die in a fire somewhere and soon.)(Also, yes this is a sore subject for me, sorry for the rant.)

Comments are closed.