HP's massive marketing machine is coming to life in advance of the TouchPad's July 1 launch, and training for partners that wish to sell and develop for the inaugural WebOS tablet is kicking into high gear.
"We're now meeting literally every day with at least one partner doing face-to-face training around TouchPad and WebOS," Tom LaRocca, HP vice president, marketing and strategy in HP's Solution Partners Organization, Americas, said in a Wednesday interview.
Starting in July, HP will stage road show events that will also include face-to-face training on how to position the TouchPad against the competition. All of HP's commercial channel partners will be allowed to sell the TouchPad, and that's welcome news to VARs that are looking to add tablets to their product mix.
The TouchPad has triggered a sense of urgency in the HP channel: Because mobility hasn’t traditionally been a channel play, partners are scrambling to develop skills before a competitor swoops in and starts snatching away customers. They're also eager to see where the WebOS bandwagon takes them.
"HP partners view the TouchPad and WebOS devices as a growth opportunity and a way to expand the scope to new kinds of customers," LaRocca said.
But while HP partners are intrigued by the TouchPad's potential, the reality is that most HP solution providers don't have much, if any, experience in the mobile space. HP is aware of this, and LaRocca says the company's TouchPad partner training has been built around the solution sales mindset with which VARs are already well-acquainted.
"We're focusing on helping partners deliver mobility across a platform in the enterprise data center for customers that will be looking for one," LaRocca said. This includes support services, extended warranties, and other functions channel partners have traditionally provided to customers, he added.
The TouchPad bears close physical resemblance to the iPad, but HP says its security and management tools will make it more palatable to enterprise IT departments. The TouchPad's smooth functioning with enterprise applications will also be crucial to its success in the business market, and HP is "working closely with a number of enterprise application companies," to make this happen, according to LaRocca.
LaRocca declined to name the companies, but Salesforce and Palm were partnering on enterprise applications prior to HP's acquisition of Palm, and Citrix has pledged to build a Receiver for the TouchPad.
In the healthcare and education vertical markets, HP is providing ISVs with the WebOS 3.0 SDK and engineering help when needed. "We’re getting these companies to port over their apps at launch so they'll have apps running on WebOS when the TouchPad launches," said LaRocca. "We're having engagements with these folks every day and making sure there are clear roadmaps for when they will come on board."
HP would like to see a community of developers and partners form around WebOS, but because iOS and Android are soaking up the lion's share of mobile development expertise at the moment, that's probably going to happen slowly. But LaRocca says the fact that WebOS is based on HTML5 makes it easy to build TouchPad applications, and this could amount to a key advantage for HP.
"The majority of organizations we talk to have a Web development person on staff. They don't necessarily have a more technical, C+ level programmer, but they at least have a Web development person. If they have that level of expertise, they can develop on WebOS," said LaRocca.
It's safe to say many partners will wait to see how TouchPad fares in the market before they make investments in WebOS development. But HP's channel partners will be on the front lines of its battle against Apple and the rest of the tablet industry, and HP is making sure they're well trained for the mission at hand.