More $99 HP TouchPads and Other Tablet Alternatives on the Way

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If you’ve been looking for a bargain on a tablet computer, you may be bummed to hear you missed out on HP’s liquidation sale of the TouchPad: just $99 for the 16 GB model. (It was going for $400, and started at $500 like most tablets.)

The TouchPad – the second-most popular tablet device after the iPad, according to a survey published last month – was discontinued by HP two weeks ago. That weekend, they dropped the price and it sold like, well, an iPad. (According to the same survey, iPads have a 93-percent market share right now.)

Retailers quickly depleted their stock as the TouchPad hit the top of Amazon’s best-seller list and became a most-discussed topic on Twitter when people were sharing where else to find one. I know several people who got order cancellations because nobody could meet the demand or delist the item fast enough.

But wait, there’s more!

Here’s the good news for anyone who missed out: Late last week, HP decided to make a last production run of TouchPads, and it sounds like the company will leave them at the $99 price for the 16 GB model and $149 for the 32 GB. When will they be available? In “a few weeks,” HP says, with instructions to follow their social media/PR folks Bryna Corcoran (@BrynaatHP) and Mark Budgell (@MarkatHP) on Twitter for the latest info.

And if you already bought one at a higher price, HP’s FAQ suggests you might be able to get the difference refunded from the retailer. Ask and see.

What could sweeten the deal even further for TouchPad owners is that a group called TouchDroid is working on a way to port the Android operating system onto the devices. By default, TouchPads use webOS, first developed for the Palm Pre and a handful of other smartphones.

While HP intended to expand on that, putting the OS on PCs and other devices, it’s no longer clear that they will – HP’s FAQ is vague, saying only that they plan to end “manufacturing webOS hardware” and “development of webOS devices.” They don’t mention software. What this could mean is that TouchPad users are stuck with an operating system that won’t get any updates, at least for now. On the other hand, HP may continue developing the OS and license it for other companies’ hardware. We’ll have to wait and find out.

Other tablet alternatives

Tablet-hungry consumers who aren’t willing to fork out for an iPad may have to wait. (Unless you want to buy a wooden iPad 2 for $180, like one South Carolina woman recently did…) After the TouchPad liquidation, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color are pretty much the only “budget” options. Here are the top brands and their retail prices, by size and price:

There are two things that might shake up the tablet market in the coming months. First, there’s the news that Amazon may be debuting a tablet as soon as October, according to Forbes. They’ve had enormous success with their Kindle eReader and have historically shown they’re willing to undersell to build market share.

The second twist is Google buying Motorola Mobility, which makes the Xoom tablet. While much of the talk about that buyout has focused on patents, it’s possible with Google taking direct control of production, it could drop the tablet’s price to become more competitive. CEO Larry Page has hinted as much with a blog post on the merger, saying this…

“The combination of Google and Motorola will not only supercharge Android, but will also enhance competition and offer consumers accelerating innovation, greater choice, and wonderful user experiences. I am confident that these great experiences will create huge value for shareholders.”

So if you’re not sure about tablets yet, waiting to see what Amazon and Google do might be a good idea.

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