HP goes after IBM’s old mobile computing customers

HP is preparing to use any IBM customer anxiety created through Big Blue’s sale of its PC business late last year to win over converts to its mobile computing line.

At its first-ever Mobility Summit last week in San Jose, Calif.,

HP held what executives called the biggest launch of commercial notebooks in the firm’s history, with additions to its thin and light, desktop performance and tablet PC product lines. The company also discussed a forthcoming handheld unit, the iPaq Mobile Messanger, which will include BlackBerry-like e-mail functionality, and announced plans to address the smart phone category later this year.

Ted Clark, senior vice-president and general manager of HP’s Mobile Computing Global Business Unit, described IBM’s decision to tell off its PC business to Chinese OEM Lenovo as a “great opportunity” for HP to regain its No. 1 position in the notebook market. 

“We’ve been talking to a large companies that have concerns about what’s happening with IBM,” Clark said later during a briefing with Canadian journalists. “There’s a lot of uncertainty . . . they want to get back on a trajectory that they can feel good about.”

Clark admitted it was difficult for HP, which has many overlapping customers within IBM’s commercial desktop and mobile customer base, to know how long its window of opportunity will stay open. 

“For those that are in the middle of a rollout, they’re not going to change,” he said. “Those plans have probably been in the oven for some time.” 

Although the traditional desktop has experienced flat to middling growth over the last three years, analysts at HP’s Mobility Summit said notebooks and handhelds remain one of the few areas within personal computing where differentiation based on features is still possible. Barny Dewey, an analyst with Seybold’s Outlook 4Mobility research organization, said there was still a lot of work to be done to enhance the application side of mobile computing.

“As notebooks get faster, IT managers no longer see laptops as anything other than something to connect to the Internet,” he said. “There are no special servers or back-end work to do.” 

Ken Dulany, a research director at Gartner Inc., agreed, adding that many network carriers have a lot of “dark fibre” still in the ground. “Most of the products have more horsepower than we need for e-mail,” he said. “We need something to fill that void.”

At the moment, HP is busy working on two problem areas that affect all notebook computing users: power consumption and battery life. Richard Stone, HP’s wireless and mobility solutions manager, said the company is experimenting with lithium polymer batteries in its tablet PC line, as well as intelligent applications that help with power management.

“If you’re looking at your e-mail inbox, chances are it’s that first message that you really wan to look at,” Stone said. “What if the application should darken the rest of the list into a grey? The only things you can really do to address power consumption is in the CPU or the display.”

HP is considering the use of organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology, for example, which would replace the backlight that may not be necessary in some notebooks.

Even with further consolidation in the mobile space, Clark said customers would ultimately be choosing from a lineup that included HP, IBM (Lenovo) and Dell. “So the question becomes, who has the innovation?” he said. “Certainly this is an opportunity I hadn’t expected to see.”

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