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HP phases out group for emerging markets

Emerging Markets Solutions Group, which focused on places like India, China and Africa, quietly disbanded late last year.

Hewlett-Packard has disbanded a group dedicated to creating technology for emerging nations, though the company says it will continue to develop products for this market.

The Emerging Markets Solutions Group began in 2002, when many multinational companies were beginning to state that their growth in the coming decades would have to come from places like India, China and Africa. In these regions, the penetration of PCs and other IT technologies is low, but the potential demand is high.

Selling technology into these regions, however, remains a challenge because of low per-capita income, comparatively lower education levels and inadequate electrical infrastructure.

HP had hoped that its labs could come up with products that could work in these environments, fulfill needs of the local communities and at the same time open revenue opportunities. Some of the products that emerged from the group included a solar-powered printer and digital camera that women in Indian villages used to create a mobile photo studio.

In South Africa, the company created the 441 computer, a single computer that could accommodate four separate users, in four different languages, at once.

"HP will introduce a new solution set for broad implementation in emerging markets in 2005," Maureen Conway, vice president of the Emerging Markets Solutions Group, wrote in December 2004.

That never happened. The group lingered and was disbanded relatively quietly in October 2005. Conway has left the company as well, an HP representative said.

The HP representative, however, said the company will continue to try to devise products for these regions in its labs and sell them through their existing product groups.

The collapse of the group will likely serve as a reminder of the complexity of the task of reaching the billions who are not on the Internet. (A calculator on a site dedicated to showcasing the efforts of Advanced Micro Devices to reach this market estimates there are 6.5 billion people in the world and only 1 billion Internet users.)

Many, nonetheless, are trying. Intel has formed a group, called the Channel Platform Group, dedicated to creating PCs and other products for this market. Nicholas Negroponte from MIT and a host of companies are also trying to bring inexpensive laptops to these regions.