Data Management

HP Makes PC-Mac Peace, but at a Cost

Picture yet another Windows vs. Mac ad, with the dweeby PC guy and the ultracool Mac dude engaging in their usual schtick. Now picture a Jimmy Carter-esque peacemaker parachuting into the shot, getting the two to shake hands, and you’ll understand the rationale behind HP’s new class of MediaSmart home servers.

HP is touting the Windows and Mac compatibility aspects of its EX485 and EX487 models, scheduled to debut in January; Apple Time Machine automatic data backup can now be set directly from the server, and the iTunes support that was introduced earlier this year in the EX470 series is maintained.

Like a lot of other tech companies, HP realizes many households do indeed need a handy way of storing and managing the gigabytes of digital media they are generating thanks to the proliferation of digital cameras and camcorders and MP3 players. The additional Mac support is recognition that more members of those households are shopping at their neighborhood Apple Stores and that more homes have PCs and Macs living peacefully under the same roof.

The big problem for HP with its new media servers is one that could stymie the most experienced of United Nations mediators; convincing cost-wary consumers to spend upwards of US$500 for one of these devices.

Crunching the Numbers

“There’s certainly a niche market for it, mostly among media-savvy or media-obsessed consumers who have taken the step toward integrating home PC usage with other types of media,” Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “But frankly I don’t see a significant number of consumers moving toward that media-everywhere sort of approach that HP seems to be relying on.”

The economic downturn will force families or individuals with a lot of digital media to manage to look at cheaper options from companies such as Iomega or LaCie, King says. “For a fraction of that price, you could go out and buy a couple of very serviceable stand-alone hard drives” that also offer some cross-OS support, King said.

The EX485, with 750 GB of storage, will retail for $599. The EX487, which can hold 1.5 terabytes (TB) of data, will sell for $749. And then there’s the option that In-Stat analyst Joyce Putscher noticed while visiting her local Wal-Mart recently: a $99 750 GB USB drive.

“It’s going to be very difficult in these economic times for a consumer to choose $500-600 for 750GB compared to $99, so I think that’s going to be the challenge for HP in the interim,” Putscher told TechNewsWorld.

Educating the Consumer on a New Category

Getting the message to the consumer that they need a media server at all — much less one that works and plays well with both PCs and Macs — will take some time, Putscher said. “This product classification is still emerging, and it is growing. But consumers aren’t getting the full message of what a network drive is. There isn’t enough exposure to these products on the neighborhood retail shelves.”

HP can take some comfort in the fact that makers of wireless home network products found themselves in a similar situation just two or three years ago, she said. “It was a high techie thing, and it was early adopters and high-tech users who pushed it. That still emerged, but it takes longer to get to the mass market level.”

No doubt there were more digital cameras and other media player/recording devices found under many a Christmas tree last week, so the need to manage the accompanying data continues to grow, King said.

“The average consumer is managing as much digital information as a small business would have just a decade ago. I know many people who have one to three TB of data that they’re streaming to TiVos and so forth.”

And while HP is up against other companies that make cheaper, standalone devices, “one thing that HP might make in its pitch is having to maintain multiple hard drives when you could do all that on one single device,” King said.

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