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Could Compaq re-emerge to fly the tablet flag for HP

Tablets, it seems are going to be bigger than anyone thought at first. Bigger than PCs? Possibly

By PETER WHITE

Published: 25 August, 2011

READ MORE: Financial | Laptop | Netbook | Tablet

Continued ...

This remains a culture thing. If we go back to one of our first assignments at Faultline in 2003, we were asked to go along to HP's European HQ in Munich and talk about the future of the PC to its PC team.

At the time we were beginning to see wireless speeds in WiFi, but also in other technologies such as UWB, that would challenge the internal bus speed on a PC. We suggested that the future PC would be portable, big enough to hold in your hand, with a screen big enough to watch movies on, but without any peripherals, which would work, but be connected by wireless. It would not have disk drives, but use lighter flash memory and would talk to corporate storage drives for backing up of enterprise data, and would double as a workstation and media delivery device and you would be able to take it home.

The device would be always connected to the web, have a lightweight operating system that was not Windows and become a personal helper. We didn't know that we were describing most of the attributes of the iPad, and we never guessed at touch screen capability, not back then.

Feeling fairly pleased with ourselves, we expected a bit of awe and a pat on the back, but the person who had hired us was grumpy and we asked why, "We were rather hoping you'd talk about a future that would happen in our lifetimes, not some star-trek vision. We wanted to know what features would sell PCs next year."

This showed us that HP was a company that asked its customers what they wanted and tried their hardest to deliver it. Steve Jobs at Apple wouldn't have got very far with that approach, he knows better than any consumer what is possible and has showed us that the trick is work out how a consumer might feel and how he might want his product to work, once he knows what new technologies can deliver.

This is typical of older companies, they become obsessed with incremental change in the right direction, evolution and not revolution and that process can be presided over by accountants and sales people and people with marketing degrees. It can only innovate by buying businesses that have already been through their innovation stage, such as Autonomy, which the HP has just shelled out $10.3 billion to buy this week.

In the end, only technologists can create $6 billion a quarter businesses overnight in technology. And only technologists, in agile organizations, who are not overly burdened by the expectation of accountants. It's a mindset, and it has to have backup from the very top. All of which pointed us as the fate of WebOS the day HP stepped to buy it.

The new initiative to find a home for the PC division of HP will result in inevitable failure. Who wants to buy a $40 billion business that the owners cannot run well enough and makes products that the world relies on, but has no love of. In 12 minutes (never mind 12 weeks) you might think of all the companies of sufficient size that could feasibly take this project on, and you find that after you have crossed off Samsung, or a Chinese government backed player or a collection of ODMs, you've run out of ideas. We think HP will, and should, spin out a separate stock, giving the company to stockholders, resurrecting the Compaq brand, with a long term PC supply contract to all HP clients. That company might have a chance to develop its own corporate HTC-like or ASUS-like culture where it could innovate at the device level, sufficiently well, that it might actually product a tablet that makes sense.

Of course in order to do that, it must harness services such as Android market, which means submerging WebOS for now, and bringing it back to the fore once Cloudbooks really exist.

WebOS may gain a foothold at Amazon, and it is reportedly being considered by Samsung for future products. But in order to make any kind of commitments, those companies have to consider the technology to be in safe hands. Of course they might buy it themselves, or take a source code license to it, but for our money, all of that is too much of a risk - getting the HP Personal Systems out of HP and into a PC oriented business is perhaps the only way forward to that kind of stability, where such deals CAN be done.

So we can see why the HP execs appear not to be reading from the same page - one of them has high ambitions for the PC Group, while the CEO, a German who was once CEO of the highly "corporate" SAP, Léo Apotheker, could care less, because he has other fish to fry.

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