HP can do mobile if it focuses on the enterprise

Meg Whitman speaks at the Tech Museum in San J...

Meg Whitman speaks at the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA February 17, 2009. Photo by Max Morse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just watched a snippet of an interview with Meg Whitman by the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

Unsurprisingly, much of the line of questioning focused on the terrible choice HP made when buying Autonomy and had Whitman keeping her plastered on smile throughout whilst blaming ‘accounting regularities’ for the firm’s huge over-valuing of the UK software company.

But this is nothing new. What I was interested to hear was Whitman’s admittance that HP wanted to build a mobile phone.

“We want to because it is a very important part of personal compute,” she said. “What we haven’t figured out yet is how to do that without just being a ‘me too’ product and losing lots of money, which I am not interested in doing.”

“We have got our best people thinking through what is the best HP play in that part of personal compute, smartphone or its next incarnation. ”

I can see her thinking. Mobile does mean big bucks nowadays, but only if you get it right.

The last time it tried was back in 2011 following the $1.2bn acquisition of Palm. When the webOS-based mobiles launched – the HP Palm 3 and HP Veer – I’ll admit to having quite a soft spot for them, but HP never seemed to get behind the devices and it didn’t take long for them to be killed off. What a waste of great software and $1.2bn…

HP’s most recent attempt on the consumer market has been the Android-based HP Slate 7 tablet. No such soft spot here when I encountered it at Mobile World Congress in February. If felt cheap, clunky and not worth buying when Google themselves, as well as Amazon, offer much superior alternatives.

The only time in recent months I have had hope for HP in the mobile space was when rumours flew around it would buy ailing Canadian firm BlackBerry. Having never used one until recently, I have become a massive convert to the new BlackBerry 10 operation system and hug my Z10 tightly each night before I go to sleep.

But the key isn’t the products; it’s the customers you aim them at. Even through its ups and downs, BlackBerry has had an army of loyal enterprise customers, still set in their ways that it is the only mobile device with true enterprise security credentials and having made large investments in both devices and backend software – e.g. BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

With HP’s raft of similarly loyal enterprise customers in other parts of its business, tying these two brands together would almost definitely lead to an end to end offering that would not just keep existing users but tempt over new ones.

But BlackBerry seems pretty determined to make it on their own – for now at least.

That doesn’t mean HP can’t learn lessons from the prospect though. Consumer is NOT its thing, however hard it tries to be ‘cool’ and ‘down with the kids’. Enterprise is where it is at and, despite a huge number of loyal BlackBerry fans, there are still business customers out there to be won over if the right offering came their way.

Whatever you do Whitman, don’t carry on with attempts like the Slate 7 or to try and win consumers over from their iPhones, Samsungs or HTCs. It just won’t happen. Target businesses; it is what you do best.

I hope for her sake the “best people” she has working on the case have told her the same thing. 

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