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Opinion: It feels like HP is ready to stop making gadgets

HP is ready to shuffle out of the consumer tech world, reckons Luke Westaway, recently back from a low-profile showcase in Shanghai.

HP flew me out to Shanghai last week to check out its new range of products, but what I saw -- just four new laptops -- left me with the distinct impression the company is about ready to throw in the towel and bow out of the consumer tech ring.

Many of you will remember the TouchPad debacle, which saw HP attempting to overthrow Apple's all-powerful iPad, and doing a particularly catastrophic job.

There was nothing especially wrong with the TouchPad, but an app-light operating system and a chubby plastic case meant it wasn't long before HP abandoned webOS and drastically dropped the TouchPad's price to shift its remaining units, at a cost of billions.

HP wasn't the only company to trip over itself in a rush to bring out an iPad killer. RIM's PlayBook tablet was a monumental foul-up, while Android-powered efforts from Samsung, Toshiba, Motorola, Asus, Acer, Dell -- pretty much everyone, in fact -- have failed to make any sort of impact.

But while some companies have hopped back into the ring, HP hasn't. It's given up on phones, and comments from one exec at the Shanghai event strongly suggest that future tablets will be aimed squarely at the business market.

HP Envy Spectre XT

Laptops are all well and good -- in fact HP has a better chance of crafting a desirable PC than it does a desirable tablet, and I thought the Envy Spectre XT (above) looked to be a perfectly respectable ultrabook. But getting a glimpse at a Windows 8 tablet, even at prototype stage, would have made me feel like HP was ready to go another round with Apple.

But no such tablet was present, just the hint (mentioned above) that any future touchscreen gadgets would be aimed at men in suits. The company's modest consumer offering -- showed alongside a swathe of new tech for businesses -- gives me a tingling feeling in my tech antennae that HP is ready to retreat to the low-profile, low-risk environment of business tech.

The notion was mooted about a year ago, when HP said it wanted to sell off its PC division -- a decision the company reversed later in 2011.

There's no shame in backing out of the consumer world -- there's a huge, fascinating part of the tech industry that's not focused on flogging shiny rectangles to ordinary chaps like you and me, and if HP can make a success of itself there, I say good going.

But if HP does duck out, I wonder who's next? Microsoft makes a lot of money from businesses, but is having a hard time pushing Windows Phones (although the Xbox is going great), while RIM has already signalled that it's ready to put its suit back on and beat a hasty retreat to the boardroom.

Should HP keep fighting the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC? Should companies stick to what they know, or squabble in new territories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook wall.