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Making Sense of HP's Mobile MessMaking Sense of HP's Mobile Mess

11:45 AM Walking away from the hottest personal computing trend in 20 years makes it hard not to watch what HP might do next

Phil Harvey

August 19, 2011

2 Min Read
Making Sense of HP's Mobile Mess

11:45 AM -- For a few months there, HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) grew fond of saying that it really is never too late to enter a market, provided you can bring some product or experience that no one has seen before. I wonder now if even they believed what they were saying.

It's a shame HP is backing away from tablets because I think tablets are the future of personal and mobile computing. Every cloud-based trend you can find supports the continued market saturation of these lighter, connected, mobile devices with crisp displays. If only HP would hang in there and have any success at all, it could help erase the baggage of at least two household names that became roadkill in the mobile phone market. (See HP Shuts Down WebOS Device Biz and HP: Tablet Effect Is Real.)

HP's Mobile Messes
First, take Palm Inc. , which HP bought last year. In the U.S., Pyramid Research figures indicate that 21 percent of the smartphones sold in 2006 were made by Palm. At the end of 2009 that figure had fallen to 3 percent. You have to really get up early every day to lose that much market share that quickly.

Let's look at another mobile device disaster -- HP itself. Looking at HP's enterprise handset business is one of the only ways you can get a look at any activity related to mobility in that sprawling, mysterious company. HP's sales of handsets to enterprises fell by US$273 million from 2008 to 2010. That's not a huge amount to a big firm like HP, but leaving that much cash on the table in a white-hot growth market shows that somewhere along the way HP stopped caring.

Both Palm and HP executives, at one time, knew what it took to build devices that consumers actually wanted. Now it seems the opposite is true and HP is considering becoming an enterprise and communications specialist.

HP: The New Sun?
Remember what Sun Microsystems Inc. felt like right before it was bought? Everyone knew they were Sun. They were a Silicon Valley legend. But I'll be damned if I knew three people anywhere outside the Valley who could tell me how they made money. HP is drifting into that Sun-like state of being best known for having once been good at something. (See Show & Tell: HP's Research Roots.)

And, weirdly, now that HP has become harder than ever to figure out, I've never been more interested.

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Phil Harvey

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading, Light Reading

Phil Harvey has been a Light Reading writer and editor for more than 18 years combined. He began his second tour as the site's chief editor in April 2020.

His interest in speed and scale means he often covers optical networking and the unsung technologies powering the modern Internet.

Harvey covered networking, Internet infrastructure and dot-com mania in the late 90s for Silicon Valley magazines like UPSIDE and Red Herring before joining Light Reading (for the first time) in late 2000. After moving to the Republic of Texas, Harvey spent eight years as a contributing tech writer for D CEO magazine, producing one-off columns about everything from supercomputing startups to nanotech discoveries. Those columns aged about as well as an open carton of milk on hell's front porch.

Harvey is an avid photographer and camera collector – if compulsive shopping and "collecting" are the same thing. His work can be seen by opening one of the dozen dusty shoe boxes in his attic and bedroom closet. "Don't wake up the gray cat," is his advice to art curators of the future.

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