There’s a lot of speculation about what HP will unveil at its press event in San Francisco tomorrow. A tablet or tablets? New smartphone? Updated webOS and SDK? A printer that reads your mind?
For sure, the company’s executives will be talking about the breadth of products that webOS enables, teasing with the tag line: “Think big. Think small. Think ahead. Think beyond.”
HP is using webOS to create a platform that spans a number of devices, bridging smartphones, notebooks, tablets and beyond. On the face of it, it has a big task in front of it in terms of scaling and delivering on multiple devices, but what HP possesses is the distribution and strong brand awareness in the minds of consumers and businesses, and that’s what they’re going to try to leverage, says CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber.
What Apple has done over a number of years, starting with the iPhone, is create services that are compelling and reinforce demand for other products it offers, and that’s a mantra he expects HP could follow – that is, using a software platform that reinforces demand for a number of different product lines, with webOS being the starting point.
When the Palm Pre was first announced, it stole the show. It’s still a capable platform, built on Web technologies that should attract a broad developer base, but the challenge to some extent remains the same, and that’s scaling and getting volumes high enough to attract developers.
As for tablets, the big question on everyone’s mind is what’s going to take the No. 2 spot after iPad, says Mark Ritorto, president of Infinite Research. Android is in play, of course, and HP used CES to announce two notebook PCs for Verizon Wireless’ LTE network – but those are based on Android. What could webOS bring to the tablet space, and how soon can HP get its new products into the pipeline, i.e., on store shelves?
Global tablet shipments reached 10 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Strategy Analytics. Apple had a 75 percent global market share in the tablet space, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab thus far has been the main driver of Android’s success, but Strategy expects Android to increase share of the global tablet market during the first half of 2011.
Dozens upon dozens of tablets were announced at CES. A Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) news release referred to more than 80 tablet launches on the show floor. Boy Genius Report counted more than 100 tablets introduced at CES and compiled a list of them, including those labeled eReaders.
Any way you slice it, there were more tablets – or in some cases, vaporware, as observers pointed out – than any market could possibly support. Ritorto says probably only half of the estimated number of tablets that were announced at CES will actually see the light of day over the next 12 months.
Whatever products are in HP’s mix, it has to set them apart from the competition, and there are various ways it can do that, Ritorto says. One is price – HP could go for lower prices, but there’s only so far you can build market share based on price. The company could include different physical features and components, but there again, other manufacturers can generally copy features in physical hardware in relatively short order.
So that leaves a couple of other areas. HP will look to use its strength in the retail channel and all its partnerships with major electronics and office supply stores. Traditional smartphone manufacturers that are rolling out tablets historically have relied on mobile carriers to get the word out, so HP would be in a better position in that sense, Ritorto says.
Another area is at the application level, bundling a specific application along with a device that could draw consumer or enterprise demand, similar to what Cisco is doing in the enterprise. The company has been building webOS up as the only truly Web-based, very feature-rich OS that allows for accessing multiple accounts simultaneously – basically the be-all-to-end-all for the multitasking generations that must do many things at once.
But it’s going to be a battle, at least in tablets. “In our opinion, Apple is going to remain the market leader for the foreseeable future here,” Ritorto says. The risk – if HP, Dell or someone else doesn’t come up with a unique strategy – is big, basically ceding the market to Apple, similar to what happened with iPod, where Apple built huge market share because competitors failed to come up with anything beyond plain vanilla MP3 players.