Sans cool iPad-like device, HP not catching Apple anytime soon

HP doesn't have a market-leading product in one of the hottest device categories. And it's just playing catch-up in others.

Will a Windows 8 tablet put HP in the same device league as Apple?
Will a Windows 8 tablet put HP in the same device league as Apple? CNET

Why is the largest computer company in the world not competing with Apple in the hottest device category?

The easy answer is that Hewlett-Packard shuttered its WebOS tablet business last summer.

The uneasy answer is that here we are in the summer of 2012 and HP, after announcing massive layoffs this week, has nothing to offer. (Sorry, the Windows 7 HP Slate doesn't count.)

And the outlook for HP doesn't necessarily improve when you think that it is putting all of its tablet eggs in Windows 8 and Windows RT devices.

Both of those categories are still unknown quantities: We don't know if Windows 8 will be a hit when it's released, probably in the October-November timeframe. And Windows RT -- designed specifically for tablets -- is even more problematic, because it's a new platform and likely won't be a factor until 2013.

But wait. Didn't HP just announce a slew of ultrabooks, including the attractive Envy Spectre XT? And doesn't that put it in the running against Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pros?

Yes, but an ultrabook ain't a tablet. It's a laptop -- a stale device category that's been around for decades. Don't think so? Just ask Tim Cook: Apple's future lies in iPads and iPhones, not MacBooks.

And I worry when I see Meg Whitman and Todd Bradley patting themselves on the back -- as they did at a recent company confab in Asia -- for simply releasing nice ultrabooks (the Spectre XT and Envy 14 Spectre). That does not constitute a competitive threat to market-leading companies like Apple.

That simply brings HP to a place it should have been a year ago.

Some might argue that HP is not Apple and shouldn't try to be Apple. In fact, Whitman made that clear during the earnings conference call this week when she said "the core of who HP is...our Server, Storage, and Networking business."

Fine. But Palo Alto-based HP has an obligation as a Silicon Valley "innovator" (literally just miles away from Apple in Cupertino) to lead in device design. Not follow, like it's doing now.

I don't think HP wants to relive the let's-jettison-all-of-our-personal-device-businesses ordeal it went through last year. So, let's hope it puts a good chunk of those R&D dollars toward market-leading devices that give even Apple something to worry about.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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