HP’s hope is going up the down staircase

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Can HP face Palm again?

There’s a new report that Hewlett-Packard might be about to jump into the mobile phone business. Its last such venture – the capture and rapid slaughter of Palm and its webOS in 2010 – is generally regarded as a disaster. But HP has to try again. It has no choice.

Computer sales are slipping, both for HP and the industry in general as tablet sales climb. It does make a Windows tablet, but that pretty much says it all. Hardly anyone is buying them.

The big question for HP is: does it try to swim in the mainstream of the mobile market and embrace the Android operating system, for both phones and tablets, or does it try to differentiate itself with an alternative like Linux or Firefox?

To succeed, HP has to come up with a unique selling proposition. The brand still has some lustre, but as the Palm debacle showed, that’s not enough to sell phones or an independent operating system. Its brand image is strong on technology and embarrassingly weak on design. So its best hope of catching the market’s attention is to come out with a product with new features and better performance.

Blackberry’s imminent demise could provide an opening. The HP brand is much loved by IT managers. By creating a product that meets bring-your-own-device standards and delivers a user experience that appeals to employees, it might fill a niche in the corporate world. Combining a novel operating system HP controls with its historical technological excellence might be enough.

I doubt HP wants to be a niche player, but right now that would be a step up.