Last week, Hewlett-Packard declared its love for Android and Chrome OS. Can a higher-priced brand compete in a sea of lower-cost manufacturers? The company has tried this road before with disastrous results.
Executives were preaching from the same script last week as they called out long-time partners. "HP's traditional, highly profitable markets face significant disruption," said CEO Meg Whitman at a company analyst event. "In Personal Systems for example, Wintel-based devices are being aggressively displaced by ARM-based PCs and mobile devices running competing operating systems . . . current, long-term HP partners, like Intel and Microsoft, are increasingly becoming outright competitors."
I'm not sure where Intel became a competitor, but certainly Microsoft's move into tablet hardware has been fairly unnerving for equipment manufacturers. On the other hand, HP and others only have themselves to blame for not evolving hardware offerings more quickly in the wake of the Apple iPad and an array of me-too Android and Windows tablets.
Non-Windows markets are where HP sees future growth and profits, embracing Android, Chrome, and Ubuntu. Google-based Chrome and Android represent $46 billion of opportunity around the world, and growing at 12 percent annually.
But it appears HP has a short memory on its last debacle in non-Wintel land. Back in 2010, the company acquired Palm for $1.2 billion, acquiring all the hardware and WebOS software development pieces. A little more than a year after the deal closed, HP shut production of all WebOS devices from smartphones to tablets after having overpriced its initial entry into the market.
HP thinks it can do well with products like its no-frills Chromebook 11, but I am not a big Chrome fan because it’s built around the Google "Everyone has reliable network connectivity all the time, everywhere" dream that only works if you keep the Chromebook near a well-understood wireless network. Move a Chromebook away from solid Wi-Fi and it becomes awkward.
The other ongoing problem with Chromebooks is that when you start comparing them with standalone budget laptops and tablet offerings, a few more dollars buys you full-blown standalone functionality in either a Wintel or Android experience -- unless you’re bringing in the higher-priced HP Android and Wintel tablets and laptop alternatives.
It sees some future in the traditional Windows-Intel arena for all-in-ones, workstations and thin clients, but it has fumbled to articulate a forward moving strategy for the enterprise to the media. I'm not sure I'd even utter the phrase "thin client" anymore -- that's what Chromebooks and tablets are supposed to be in many/most cases.
HP's meta issue here is that it needs to focus on being value-priced (i.e., cheap) if it is going to get into the low-cost world of Chromebooks and Android. We're talking under-$200 functional devices affordable for all those growth markets around the globe where individual and family income measures in thousands of dollars per year, not the tens of thousands of dollars per family/individual markets of the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson