Mobile Tech

Whitman Wants HP to Keep Up With the Smartphone Joneses

HP CEO Meg Whitman revealed the company plans to launch another smartphone, in what would be a second attempt at the mobile market for the PC giant.

Whitman noted last week in an interview with Fox Business News that since HP is a computing company, it should ultimately offer a smartphone.

It wouldn’t be the company’s first foray into the mobile market. In 2010, HP purchased smartphone maker Palm for US$1.2 billion and developed webOS, its own mobile operating system. Its TouchPad tablet and Pre smartphone failed to dazzle in the competitive market.

Change of Focus

Whitman’s predecessor, Leo Apotheker, decided to kill the OS and its corresponding products after about 16 months on the market. Apotheker wanted HP to focus more on cloud services and software than mobile devices, and was ousted after less than a year on the job.

In her interview, Whitman said HP needs to “take advantage” of the smartphone form factor since HP is a computing company, and in many countries, smartphones are people’s primary computing device. She did not give any details as to when an HP device would hit the market, but said her mantra for the company is “better right than faster,” focusing on fine-tuning a complete product rather than rushing into the crowded space.

HP did not respond to our request for comment on the story.

Android vs. Windows

Whitman did not unveil any details about a potential device, such as which operating system would run an HP smartphone. With webOS out of the picture, the company would most likely make a choice between Google’s Android OS or Microsoft’s recently revamped Windows 8.

“My guess is that it would be a Windows phone and HP would hope to capitalize on their work with Windows 8 on their PCs and hopefully use that to boost a smartphone initiative,” Ben Bajarin, director and founder of Creative Strategies, told TechNewsWorld.

With so many smartphone makers with years of experience designing phones optimized to those systems, though, it could be tough to break through with a revolutionary product that could disrupt the sea of iPhones and mass market hot sellers that run on Android, saidColin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOm Pro.

“It’s going to be very tough for HP to differentiate their smartphones with software,” Gibbs told TechNewsWorld. “There are a ton of quality Android handsets on the market, and Nokia has a big edge with Windows Phone because of its tight relationship with Microsoft.”

Plenty of Smartphones in the Sea

That could have been different, said Gibbs. HP had a critically well-received system with webOS, but if the company couldn’t take advantage of what it had the first time around, there’s no indication it will be able to launch a winning mobile device for round two, he said.

“HP had a chance to really move the needle with webOS, which could have emerged as a threat to Android and iOS, but it completely dropped the ball because it failed to commit to smartphones,” he said. “I think HP definitely needs a move towards mobile — maybe by moving more aggressively into the tablet market, but building a successful smartphone is a long shot at this point.”

That could be true even outside the US, where Whitman seemed to be saying HP hoped to make a smartphone splash. But without the mobile infrastructure of a company such as Apple, Samsung or Nokia, that can afford to market worldwide, HP could be headed for a profit that isn’t worth the effort, said Bajarin.

“Everyone outside of Apple and Samsung is already killing themselves battling over the little profits that are left in the smartphone space,” he said. “If HP believes that the core of this strategy is outside the US, then they are looking at a high volume, low margin strategy. This by itself is a very difficult and cutthroat strategy. I’m not exactly sure why a company would want to jump into a market like that with zero momentum.”

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