Chasing Unicorns, My Quest For A TouchPad

How I became a locust in the horde

For those of you who didn’t notice, I posted my first blog article of the week Wednesday morning. That is not like me. I usually like to post something on Monday and if not on Tuesday for sure.  But I did not this week because I was lost in a labyrinth of Touchpads, Best Buys and chasing the Unicorn. Now finally almost a week later the blood fever that gripped me has subsided enough for me to tell you about it.

It all started last Friday when HP announced that it was abandoning the consumer, mobile and even the PC market.  I wrote that the best thing to do with the 1.8 billion dollar Palm WebOS was to open source it, where a bevy of Android hardware companies would be looking to offset the Google/Motorola merger.

As part of this exiting of the market, HP announced they were marking down the previously reported very large inventory of TouchPad’s to $99.  I am not sure HP realized that this would set off a frenzied buying spree that would result in the TouchPad becoming probably the 2nd most popular tablet almost instantly. Or maybe they are as crazy as a fox and knew just what they were doing.

In any event I ate my own dog food and was convinced that something good is going to happen with WebOS and for a hundred bucks the TouchPad was a no brainer.  I heard about the price reduction and was going to head down to my local Best Buy and buy one or two or three. Heck I was going to buy four, one for every member of the family!

Funny thing though, when I got to Best Buy, I asked the clerk where the TouchPads were and he looked at me and laughed. He said they were long gone. In fact they had given out vouchers at 6am to the people who were lined up so they wouldn’t have a stampede when the store opened.  How any one knew to get on line at 6 for vouchers is another story.

So missing out on the bargain at Best Buy I went home and did what any geek would do. I went on line and tried to buy one from Amazon. No luck there, sold out. In fact, every place I looked either they were sold out or the web sites at these big ecommerce sites were slowed down to a crawl. Even the HP site itself was rendered unresponsive.  Blue Horseshoe loves Endicott Steal (xtra points if you know what that means), there was something going on here. A rush on the $99 TouchPads.

At that point I read an article about this unfolding tsunami of people buying up TouchPads. While if you found one from a retailer for $99, Ebay, Craiglist and other aftermarket sites had them selling for $250 and more.  The article mentioned some strategies for scoring a $99 Touchpad and mentioned a site, SlickDeals.com as the place to hear about the latest news and scuttlebutt on where to get one.

I headed over to SlickDeals and was sucked in like a Kansas teenager arriving on a bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC.  The posts with questions, answers and theories were so hot and heavy that I couldn’t keep up with them. They were posting sites and links to every retailer with TouchPads. There were literally thousands of people it seemed who had ordered 2, 4, 8 or 10 TouchPads and were trying everything and anything.

As retailers honored the HP price reduction, the horde of SlickDealers would head over and their sheer numbers would literally bring down the servers. When a store was announced as having stock, a line would form outside its door and it would be consumed in moments. It was literally like a swarm of locusts consuming anything and everything in sight. I am ashamed to say I became one of those locusts. I went to Tiger Direct, CompUSA, OnSale, Newegg, PC Connection and a dozen other retailer sites that I never heard of before. Each time within moments the site would be brought to its knees. Calling customer support would entail holding on for hours listening to annoying music only to be told “sorry we are out of stock and don’t know if we will ever get any more TouchPads in”.

All the time the SlickDealers would update what was happening at each retailer. People would talk about why and what they were going to do with their TouchPads. The prices on ebay and Craigslist continued to go up.  The more you read the more you had to have one of these tablets that just a few days before it seemed HP couldn’t give away.

Finally I saw a post on Slick Deals that had a link to a back door on the HP SMB site to order some TouchPads. I went in and ordered two 16GB models to see if it worked. It seemed to work and when I looked at my credit card, I saw a pending charge for the tablets. W00t! I thought I scored. But in my heart I knew that the HP order was not a lock. More than that I could not rip myself away from SlickDeals. I had to follow the saga. I had two on order, I was going to get two more damn it!

I kept chasing the Unicorn. Following up on trolls posting nonsensical rumors, trying to beat the hordes to the next stash of pads, I was a man possessed and determined to get my share of these discontinued failures. Blogging, eating, working took a far backseat.

Slick Deals said if you had your HP order in before Sunday night you were golden.  My HP order didn’t show on their site until Monday early AM though. Not a lock. In the meantime the horde continued to bring down any site that had any inventory of the Touchpad. Checking order status on HP, when the horde was not bringing down the site, I had an order number and was in the HP system, but no guarantee.

Finally on Tuesday with my son’s birthday coming on Wednesday, I went on Craigslist.  Locally here in South Florida I located two 32 GB models for $100 dollars more than they were sold for, new in the box. I couldn’t help myself. I was still going to get two 32GB models for the price of one iPad.  I met the sellers in parking lots of malls and made the buy. I felt like I was party to a drug deal going down.  But I got my fix.

I drove back to the office and took one of the TouchPads out of the box. I caressed the smooth, shiny contours of my latest conquest. I plugged in the charger and set up the box. The object of my fevered desires was right there in my grubby little hands!

I had two TouchPads now and still held out hope that my HP orders would go still come through. I was superior to the hordes on SlickDeals still chasing the Unicorn or so I thought.

Funny thing was now that I had a TouchPad, what to do with it? I set up my email. I downloaded a bunch of apps. I even went to the PreCentral site and installed PreWare and Homebrew which is sort of like installing Cydia and jail breaking your iPhone, but HP actually encouraged people to do so.  I played with it for a few hours and then put it down. 

I was going to give the 2nd one to my wife. But being a Mommy, she said no, give it to my oldest son for his 12th birthday. As much as she would like one, if I got the others from HP she would take one of those. So I gave it to my son. He oohed and aahd, not quite sure he realized the difference between this and an iPad.  Funny thing was after a few hours he put his down too.

But even having my two touchpads, I could break free of SlickDeals. I was still mesmerized and paralyzed trying to keep up with the never ending stream of posts, looking for the next stash to raid. Trying to find out if my HP orders would go through or not. I called HP SMB order hotline. The man told me that I only had a slim chance of having my order fulfilled. Hah! What did he know, just because he worked for HP? They didn’t know themselves what they had and rumors were flying of warehouses full of TouchPads that HP still had to sell.

In the meantime I contented myself buying accessories for my TouchPads. I bought some screen protectors. I picked up some nice cases. I also bought a wireless keyboard.

Finally yesterday at 5:50pm I received an email from HP that my order was going to be cancelled ;-( But as sad as I was, it seemed to end the blood fever. I posted my cancellation email to SlickDeals (I had made the leap from lurker to poster a day or so earlier) and was going to move on. About an hour later though I received another email from HP, it was confirmation of my order and had a shipping date of August 28th.  The fabled mother lode of TouchPads that HP was sitting on must have come through. In the words of Al Pacino in Godfather, Part III, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!

I was back on SlickDeals, sharing my latest HP email, asking what it meant, what to do next. I am still in the hunt. I am going to call HP again and see what this means as soon as I post this story.  For me the hunt for the Unicorn is not over yet.

So I hope that HP does something smart with WebOS. It really is a great tablet. It needs more tablet optimized apps.  I need my Words with Friends, I need Google tablet apps, ESPN and more.  There is much to like about WebOS.

Funny thing is after going through this whole thing, I am more sure than ever that the best thing HP can do is open source WebOS right now!

UPDATE: I came across this YouTube which is very funny in light of my experience.

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