HP Can't Afford to Abandon Mobile Now
In the same year that Microsoft added cut and paste to its mobile feature set, HP added cut and run, announcing last week that it would no longer produce webOS hardware, then dumping its failed HP TouchPad tablet in a $99 fire sale. At the same time, the number-one PC maker signaled its intent to spin off, sell, and otherwise dump its Personal Systems Group—the division that makes all of its computers for business and consumer markets—within 12 to 18 months. Unless a buyer like Samsung is waiting in the wings already, that's a long time to go without a mobile strategy.
As of this moment, HP is the only major hardware vendor without a serious tablet/phone plan in place. Apple rules the roost with its iPhone and iPad. Dell may not be a huge success in mobile, but it offers a wide array of tablets and phones using Android, Windows Phone 7, and plain old Windows 7.
Toshiba recently rolled out its Thrive Android tablet. Lenovo has its IdeaPad K1 tablet, upcoming ThinkPad tablet, and a line of LePhone handsets in China that could someday invade the U.S. Sony has its Sony Ericsson mobile division and upcoming Sony S1 and S2 tablets. It almost goes without saying that Samsung is a huge player in mobile. Acer offers a bunch of Iconia tablets and innovative phones like the Iconia Smart. Even MSI has some Android and Windows slates rolling out.
"The PC division will be hurt by dropping high mobility hardware," said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint technologies. "A PC company isn't worth much as a pile of assets, only as a going concern."
Not everyone agrees that HP's lack of mobile momentum is a serious problem. NPD Analyst Stephen Baker says that no company aside from Apple really has its mobile act together.
"None of the other windows PC makers have a successful mobile strategy (Samsung does not have a unified strategy, just separate mobile and PC ones)," he told us. "Between Lenovo, Dell, Toshiba and Acer (and ASUS too), none of those are burning down the house in non-PC form factors."
While Baker is right that PC vendors haven't tasted great success in mobile, their actions show that selling tablets and phones is table stakes in the hardware game. HP just folded.
After throwing its webOS products in the trash, HP's mobile cupboard appears nearly bare, with the ancient Windows Mobile-powered HP iPaq Glisten its only smartphone and no tablet for sale (if you really try, you can still get the lame, overpriced Windows 7-powered HP Slate for over $700). What are HP's most loyal customers in the enterprise to do, if not turn elsewhere? Not providing a phone/tablet solution for your clients in 2011 is equivalent to not selling notebook computers to them in 2005.
If HP's PSG wants to stay competitive and build its value in time for a sale, it can't afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for a new corporate parent to give it direction. It needs to bring phones and tablets to market soon or risk falling even further behind its competitors.
Expect the Palo Alto power brokers to offer handsets with Android and/or Windows Phone 7 OS sometime within the next 6 months. Windows Phone 7, in particular, seems like the next logical step up from the company's Windows Mobile handsets. No matter what phone operating system HP chooses, expect the company to release an Android tablet sometime in 2012. HP has no choice but to jump right in with both feet.
Even if HP eventually sells the PSG to a company such as Samsung that has a strong mobile portfolio, it needs to keep providing secure, manageable mobile solutions for its enterprise clients. HP's PSG has stronger relationships with business IT than companies such as HTC, LG, and Samsung, and if it wants to remain a valuable asset in the long term, it needs to build on those relationships.