Steve Jobs leaves apt rebuke of Hewlett-Packard

Among the many scathing remarks that Steve Jobs is delivering from the grave, one of the most appropriate is aimed at Apple's Silicon Valley neighbor Hewlett-Packard.

commentary One of Steve Jobs' most fitting broadsides from a soon-to-be-released biography is targeted at Hewlett-Packard's management.

So, without further ado: "Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands," Jobs told Walter Isaacson in the book "Steve Jobs," which is set to be published Monday.

"But now it's being dismembered and destroyed," Jobs said. "I hope I've left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple," he added.

That's the perfect rejoinder to Wall Street analysts and HP board members who offer the same tired refrain: turn HP into a software and services company (whatever that means) in order to squeeze out a few more pennies of profit. In fact, I'm sure analysts would be perfectly happy to see HP become a barely recognizable shadow of itself. As long as gross margins improved.

Jobs' criticism of HP is apt because he presents a different path to success. Build great hardware products, and people and profits will come.

HP's board doesn't understand the significance of hardware. Steve Jobs does.

Jobs introduces the iPad 2.  Imagine an Apple without the iPad, the iPhone, or the MacBook.
Jobs introduces the iPad 2. Imagine an Apple without the iPad, the iPhone, or the MacBook. Apple

Imagine Apple without the MacBook Air or the iPhone. While HP is not Apple, there would be little left to hang a hat on if HP jettisoned its PC business.

I had a discussion with Bod O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC who follows HP closely, about this (related to HP possibly spinning off its PC business). Hardware is the face of HP, according to O'Donnell. I agree. All of those EliteBook, Envy, and ProBook laptops are hard, tangible, three-dimensional representations of what HP is: first and foremost, a hardware company.

And don't tell me that the thousands of engineers and designers at HP can't come up with a groundbreaking laptop or tablet. (The Touchpad had a decent shot at success. And it would have improved over time.)

I own a MacBook Air now, but I'm not wedded to Apple. And I like HP laptops (which I've owned in the past). Particularly, the EliteBook and ProBook lines. My point is, that's what HP represents to me and I'm sure millions of others--and this drives buying decisions.

If HP offers an attractive laptop, such as the ProBook 5530M, that product improves my image of the company. Just as my opinion of Apple changed, for the better, when it first came out with the MacBook Air in January of 2008. And I've been buying Airs ever since.

Of course, this is all above and beyond the well-known arguments that HP gains tremendous leverage and cost advantages with component suppliers by being the No.1 PC maker in the world. Another thing Steve Jobs could relate to.

But getting back to Jobs' criticism. You don't build a great company by dismantling it and then trying to clone the strategies of other, less-successful companies. Certainly not if you're HP. Let's hope HP's board is smart enough to see Jobs' rebuke for what it is: good advice.

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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