Confusion Reigns Over TouchPad Pre-Orders From HP, Partners

WebOS TouchPad tablet

Many of HP's online retail partners still aren't taking pre-orders for the TouchPad tablet, even though HP is directing prospective TouchPad customers to their Web sites. And HP itself seems to have a different definition of pre-ordering than the one which suggests customers can reserve a product prior to its launch.

On Tuesday, CRN contacted the customer service departments of several online retail partners that HP links to on its official TouchPad Web site to determine whether they're taking pre-orders. A Radio Shack customer service representative said the company isn't accepting pre-orders online or over the phone, and an Officemax representative professed to having "no idea" when the TouchPad would be available for online or phone pre-ordering.

A customer service representative from Hilliard, Ohio-based Micro Center was unsure if the online retail firm is taking TouchPad tablet pre-orders online or by phone. Newegg is taking pre-orders through but not through, according to a customer service representative from that company.

HP is allowing business customers to pre-order TouchPads online through its Web site, but the company isn't extending this option to consumers. In fact, consumers can't reserve a TouchPad at this point in time -- all they can do is call HP and ask to be contacted when HP releases the TouchPad tablet, according to an HP customer service representative. This despite the fact that HP's Web site includes a large, prominently displayed blue button inviting customers to 'Reserve Now From HP'.

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Prospective TouchPad customers are also reportedly encountering confusion when trying to pre-order TouchPads at Best Buy stores. On the Palm enthusiast forum Treo Central, many posters are complaining of store staff being unfamiliar with the TouchPad and unable to provide accurate information about the WebOS tablet.

"I have had no luck at 3 different local Best Buys trying to preorder this thing! They all have no idea what I am talking about at first, then come back and say 'you can preorder it online'," one Treo Central poster wrote Sunday. Best Buy is allowing customers to pre-order through its Web site.

HP couldn't be reached for comment on why some of its online retail partners aren't taking TouchPad pre-orders, why consumers can't reserve TouchPads directly from HP, and whether it's offering sales training to Best Buy and other retail partners' in-store employees.

The TouchPad, HP's first WebOS tablet, is a critically important product release for HP that will be closely watched in the mobile industry. So the appearance of HP and its partners being out of synch on the TouchPad launch is a troublesome sign for a company that often touts its marketing and distribution capabilities as a competitive advantage.

HP trails Apple's iPad and the Android tablet army by a wide margin, but its view is that WebOS is more conducive to getting work done than the tablet operating systems currently on the market. HP has also been playing up its ability to weave security and management into the TouchPad so as to appease enterprise IT. In HP's view, it's still early days in tablets and it still has time to catch up.

Of course, the market has yet to render its verdict on whether the TouchPad can challenge the iPad. And HP also needs to convince partners and developers that WebOS is a platform that's worthy of their time and investment. But HP will at least have to execute on basic functions like pre-ordering if it's going to have any chance of putting a dent in the sizable lead its tablet competitors have already carved out.