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Stop Serving Half-Baked Tablets

When a flood of tepid reviews started coming in for the HP TouchPad, Jon Rubinstein did what any sensible leader would do: accentuate the positive. In a leaked internal memo, the senior VP and general manager of the Palm Global Business Unit reportedly rallied his troops by stressing that “the industry understands HP’s vision and sees the same potential in webOS as we do.”

Rubinstein also acknowledged that HP’s first webOS tablet has flaws, but assured his charges that these issues would be addressed by over-the-air software updates. As he said, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I just have one question. Why would you start a race—even a long-distance one--with one leg tied behind your back?

The TouchPad certainly does some things well, including a slick interface that makes it easy to multitask, built-in Skype video chat, and the ability to share info with webOS phones with a tap. However, at times during my review the TouchPad was borderline unusable. Sometimes I would touch something on screen and nothing would happen until many seconds later, and other times the accelerometer took an eternity to change orientations. Other times apps took their sweet time loading, leaving me just staring at a spinning circle. Consumers deserve better than the promise of better performance later.

HP readily admits that the TouchPad was under development for less than a year, and that webOS had to be re-written for larger screen devices.

A spokesperson shared that I “should be looking at webOS 3.0 as a nearly complete new version” of the software. I’m certainly willing to give the TouchPad a pass for a lack of apps. 300 choices is miniscule compared to 100,000 for the iPad, but you have to give the ecosystem time to develop. I’m much less lenient when it comes to shipping a product that’s simply not working the way it should.

Assuming that HP was testing the TouchPad internally, the company certainly knew its tablet wasn’t fully baked long before it handed it to me and others to review. So why not wait a few more weeks—or months, if need be—to iron out the kinks before releasing the tablet? As it stands now, there’s no ETA for the TouchPad’s first over-the-air update, and I simply wouldn’t recommend the device until it works properly.

Esteemed colleague Harry McCracken summed up HP’s situation well with this tweet: “Advice to tablet companies: Do no advertising. Take the money you save. HIRE MORE QA PEOPLE.”

Note that he said tablet companies and not just HP. And that’s because HP is not alone in shipping slates that aren’t fully baked. The Motorola Xoom was buggy at launch as well, and I don’t think a recent $100 price drop is going to save that bulky device. And RIM had the gall to say “Amateur hour is over” when advertising its PlayBook tablet. You know, the one that still doesn’t have native email and calendar apps. At least Samsung had the guts to scrap its 10-inch Galaxy Tab design and start over when it saw the iPad 2.

Near the end of his missive, Rubinstein used what has become one of the naughtiest words in the tech industry—the P word. “Your hard work and passion, and the power of HP’s commitment to webOS, will turn that potential into the real thing.” Unfortunately, potential doesn’t sell.

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.