The HP Touchpad is having a minor zombie renaissance right now. After last week’s announcement that the tablet device was being discontinued as part of HP’s massive dark-night-of-the-soul restructuring, prices for the Touchpad descended into the double-digits over the weekend. According to this breathless Washington Post article, Best Buy wound up selling the discounted devices with a limit of one per customer. And, since the average iPad 2 currently starts retailing at $499, we now have pseudo-scientific proof that Apple’s competitors just need to sell roughly the same device for 80 percent off in order to compete in the tablet market.

For those of us old enough to remember the last time Apple invented/dominated an entire consumer market, the demise of the HP Touchpad is conjuring up vivid memories of Microsoft’s Zune. The Zune was, by all accounts, as good or better than the 2006-era iPods. People I know who are deeply invested in loving technology and hating Apple assured me that the Zune would satisfy all my music-listening needs. And yet the Zune never recovered from the sense that it was an also-ran. (It didn’t help matters that the iPod came embroidered with Apple’s legendary marketing brilliance, while the Zune was apparently conceived by people who thought “Zune” was a good name for something.) Likewise, the Touchpad was arguably a better device than the iPad 2 — and before the line was discontinued, HP had experimented with lowering below Apple levels. Now, it’s a $99 impulse buy that will probably just serve as a gateway drug to other tablets.

So is the tablet market destined to go the same way as the portable music player market? Maybe not. A new report by market research firm In-Stat indicates that Android-powered tablets will be competing with Apple for the forseeable future. (“Google vs. Apple” could be the defining battle of this decade.) Still, it’s interesting to see Apple yet again dominate a market with roughly the same playbook: Define itself as the boutique, “fashionable,” yet easy-to-use brand, and then watch higher-powered devices fall by the wayside.

Tech people, are you sad to see the Touchpad fail? Non-techies, did you even know about the Touchpad? When the digital dimension of America is eventually cut in twain, will you choose to live in The Kingdom of Apple or the United Confederation of Googlevania?

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