Sunday, August 28, 2011

The hunt for the $99 TouchPad

By Stas Holodnak, Ukrainian writer in Brooklyn, New York.

It’s not that you have to wait in line it’s how you spend your time waiting.

At first I planned for a Netbook to do my writing on the go. Keyboard, long battery life and reasonable price were the enticing factors. I checked out a Netbook on display inside the Staples store on 6th Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. It exuded heat like Arizona desert on the hot summer day while a nearby HP Touch Pad, a tablet similar to the iPad but with more functions, felt only slightly warmer than room temperature. The price tag for the Touch Pad screamed $99 but hastily handwritten text in small letters below whispered sold out.

After Hewlett Packard announced the fire sale of discontinued Touch Pads, $99 apiece, the TouchPad rush commenced on the web and its surroundings. I decided for once not to miss out on the bonanza. My next stop was Office Depot down the block. “Do you sell tablets?” I asked two Office Depot employees, the tall, muscular men leisurely conversing in the empty store. Unsure what I was inquiring about computers or medicine one of them said reluctantly - “Check downstairs” - a vague reply worthy of my vague question. Instead I went to Best Buy located on 5th Avenue and 44th street. “If you want $99 HP tablet, come tomorrow at 9 AM,” the Best Buy employee assured me, “Best Buy will have 250 of them.”

9:30 AM the next morning I was there, eager as a boy scout on a treasure hunt. The line spanned about 300 feet, from the Best Buy’s front door to the corner of the block. Most people in the line looked young (below 40) and relaxed. They were peering into their smart phones and simultaneously talking to people next to them. It looked like a friendly meeting of like minded people preferring for some reason to stand in line instead of a circle. Words like Android, WebOS and WiFi were passed along like salt and pepper at a dinner table. People here owned more than enough of computer equipment. Some of them hoped to make a quick dollar but most, it seemed to me, came to buy something that was slated to become an instant antic.

Waiting in line I could not take my mind away from the diminishing supply of the Touch Pads but soon the serenity of the crowd overtook me. With a friendly smile I was passing along words like Facebook, Ubuntu and Open Source. I befriended a young man, a Help Desk team leader at the MBC who arrived here at 7:30 AM. He was seventh in line when the store opened. He got his first TouchPad and now was back in the line hoping for one more catch.

Tourists glanced at us and some stopped to inquire what was happening. A tourist with an Israeli accent would not believe that anything with the plug would sell for less than 100 dollars. “99 dollars, 99 dollars,” he repeated in disbelieve. “Join us friend, Empire State building will not run away,” I felt like saying to him.

My biggest surprise was how efficiently the Best Buy people were managing the waiting line. Patrons could get into the store without waiting but the path to the coveted TouchPad led exclusively through our line. The Best Buy man at the door let people from the waiting line inside the store in groups of five. “Go to the man in the yellow shirt." He guided aspiring TouchPad owners in the commanding voice, “Don’t deviate.” Someone tried offering a bribe for the TouchPad to a Best Buy employee who flatly declined. Another employee stopped a teenager who tried to cut into my group of five. The group of five’s idea was a stroke of the Best Buy genius. You may swallow an offense if someone cuts in line in front of you, but the party of five together as a group will not tolerate a 6th intruder.

I ended up spending over $200. I bought more memory (you always end up spending more on memory), a wireless keyboard and the docking station for the Touchpad. Still it was a good deal considering it costs HP more than $300 to make one.
At work colleagues looked at my TouchPad with envy. Rapid mouse clickers they ordered TouchPads from different websites. As of now they are still waiting for vendors’ assurances to ship a discounted TouchPad.

It is the 21st century but at times there is no alternative to a good old legwork.

Editor's Note: Its unclear why HP discontinued the TouchPad. Some people believe its due to patent lawsuits from Samsung and/or Apple (Apple doesn't actually build many of its products, much of the important work is outsourced to Samsung). A superior product washed down the drain by greedy lawyers.

The $99 pricetag is evidently meant to spit in the eye of Apple.

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