How HP could make its Android tablet a winner

HP hopes its planned Android tablets fare better than the short-lived TouchPad (above). Credit: flickr photo by HP PC

Ever since Hewlett-Packard pulled the plug on webOS in the summer of 2011 -- following the TouchPad tablet’s spectacular crash and burn -- the PC maker has slid closer to irrelevance in an increasingly mobile computing world.

So HP’s plan to reenter the mobile market with Android-powered tablets (and, perhaps later on, smartphones) can be seen as a strategic imperative, a desperation move -- or both.

Either way, it appears HP is planning to announce a high-end Android tablet running on NVIDIA’s latest chip, the Tegra 4, according to an article earlier this week on ReadWriteWeb.

For enterprise professionals, though, the real issue is whether HP-Android devices will become a presence in the workplace. Given the hole HP has dug itself in the mobile space, not to mention the struggle Android has had trying to eat into iOS’s considerable enterprise market share, even modest success in the tablet market is far from assured.

“The concern is it will be hard for them to differentiate an offering,” says Chris Hazelton, mobile and wireless research director for Boston-based 451 Research. “There have been a number of attempts to build a tablet for the enterprise.”

Most -- with the obvious exception of Apple’s iPad -- have failed, though Hazelton says Samsung is “starting to gain some traction, particularly with its 5-inch phablets, the Galaxy Notes.”

Part of Samsung’s success, he says, is its SAFE for Enterprise program, which provides APIs to mobile device management vendors, application management vendors and mobile virtualization players to enable the development of security and other features.

“Essentially they’re making their devices as easy to manage in the enterprise as possible,” Hazelton says. “They want to be the default Android device for the enterprise.

“What HP can do is kind of mirror this strategy, or even one-up it,” he says. “HP can provide a bundle -- either through partnerships or acquisitions -- for a device, their flavor of Android, a locked-down version of Android just for their specific users.”

Beyond that, Hazelton says, HP could leverage its “large assets and direct them toward software and service development for the enterprise behind these tablets.”

“Here you have an opportunity for HP to kind of put its full weight behind Android,” he says, noting the PC maker’s hardware, services and systems integration experience, not to mention its vast sales force.

But the biggest challenge for HP in the enterprise tablet market -- besides the iPad, of course -- is its point of entry. The BYOD revolution is all about employees bringing their favorite consumer devices into the workplace and forcing IT to deal with it. People must want to use the devices in the first place, no matter how “enterprise-ready” they may be.

“It has to be a consumer-friendly device,” Hazelton says. “The best thing about a tablet is its very software-driven. A tablet for the enterprise and a tablet for consumers are not going to look very different from a hardware perspective. The differentiation will be software.”

Which leads to Android’s main advantage, he says.

“Android offers a lot of flexibility,” Hazelton say. “You can have a very purpose-built, consumer-friendly hardware, consumer-friendly user interface, but a very locked-down experience.”

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