Rumors have been swirling about HP soon entering the tablet market with, depending on who you believe, a Windows 7 Tablet for the enterprise user, an Android tablet for e-reading, or a WebOS tablet to compete with iPads.
Pundits have been trying to decide which of these makes the most sense, with several saying that at least 2 of these will make it to market. But I say what the company needs is all three. So HP, here’s what I think you need to do to stake out your position in the emerging tablet market that Apple has done such a good job defining:
First, you have been showing a Windows-based tablet for many months, but it never made it to market. This is probably a good thing, as early indicators were that it was sluggish and not up to the competition. Hopefully, with the newer Atom processors released by Intel (Windows doesn’t support ARM), you have been able to improve the performance to a competitive level.
I think there is a place for a Windows-based tablet, especially in the enterprise. But I think you would do better to put all your efforts (at least initially) into getting out a WebOS and an Android tablet. You need to get them out quickly, and both need to achieve a high level of performance and usability. The Windows tablet is less time-sensitive and can wait until the performance is there. There are going to be LOTS of Android-based tablets launched later this year, so time is of the essence in getting yours out there too.
But that’s too many products, you might be saying to yourself. Well, you have had diverse and even overlapping product sets before, and probably plan on continuing to do so in the future. I see this as a segmented strategy. The Palm brand is closely associated with WebOS. A Palm tablet makes a lot of sense as an extension of the smart phone franchise. This is just like HP keeping the Compaq brand for consumer-oriented notebooks and having the HP brand for business. Palm needs to be in the smart phone business and the lower end of the tablet space as well.
You should seriously consider an Android-based tablet as well, although I think the priority for this is now less critical given HP’s ownership of WebOS. But I think the Compaq brand should come out with an Android-enabled tablet aimed primarily at the consumer and education space. This should be a winning market entry at a compelling price and feature set, an area in which the Compaq brand has established itself. And Android would make sense here because of the large number of consumer-directed applications in the Android marketplace and the preference for all things open in the education market, particularly higher education.
I believe HP-branded tablets geared towards the enterprise should also be in your plans, although not until the WebOS tablet is released. This makes sense as enterprises are looking at tablets to fulfill a corporate role, and HP and Microsoft are both strong in this space and can bring things to bear that Android and WebOS can’t (like full Windows app compatibility, Outlook, Microsoft manageability and connections to SMS, etc.). And this is a less price-sensitive market, so having an Atom-based tablet with the cost of Windows 7 and extra memory added would not necessarily be a deal breaker.
So HP, I believe you need to leverage your three brands by attacking three different market segments with three different strategies. This makes the most sense to me, given the diversity of the markets you serve and the diversity of product requirements in different segments. I do think timing will be critical, and each product going after its market segment will have different time-to-market needs and pressures. I believe a Palm WebOS tablet should be first, followed by an Android tablet device, followed by a Windows tablet – all addressing somewhat different market segments with differentiation in branding and features (and of course price).
Is this too complex a roadmap for HP? Not if you want to dominate tablets the way you are dominating PCs. The only question is, can you make it happen in a timely and sensible fashion and before your competition preempts you?