Launches 8 new commercial-grade tablets with enterprise mobility solutions in tow
Plans to run customer workshops that deal with devices, security and services
HEWLETT-PACKARD'S (HP) storied past in tablets and mobile devices is well-documented.
Here is a company that, more than a decade ago, was a market leader in handheld computing devices with its Windows CE-based Pocket PCs. For a brief period, it even owned Palm, a pioneer in personal digital assistants (PDA) and smartphones.
But with the spectacular failure of its WebOS strategy which it acquired from Palm, and the ill-fated TouchPad tablet in 2011, HP has spent the last few years rebooting its tablet line-up, releasing a handful of Android and Windows tablets which, going by research firm IDC’s latest rankings, haven’t made a significant impact on its market share or global position.
That’s not stopping the IT giant from taking another stab at this hotly contested space dominated by Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy tablets. It comes at a time when overall tablet sales worldwide have started to see a decline, but IDC believes the growth of commercial tablets is particularly promising.
In an e-mail interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), senior market analyst for IDC Asia Pacific Avinash Sundaram said, “The 2014 total tablet market in Asia Pacific excluding Japan expanded by just 3%. The commercial segment on the other hand grew by 21%, so it is definitely a brighter spot compared to the overall market.”
That’s the basket HP is putting its eggs in. At a Feb 12 media event in Singapore, HP’s Printing and Personal Systems (PPS) Group – soon to be known as HP Inc – introduced a broad portfolio of seven new tablets and a two-in-one device, all focused on enterprise customers.
The Android-based HP Pro Slate 8 and HP Pro Slate 12 – with 8- and 12-inch displays respectively in a 4:3 display ratio (similar to the Apple iPad), are high-end offerings powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor.
They feature the HP Duet Pen, a Qualcomm-developed digital pen technology that allows users to write on paper while at the same time, have their scribbles appear on screen simultaneously.
This requires the separately sold HP Paper Folio, but the solution is geared for businesses that need an immediate hardcopy along with a digital version.
The HP Elite x2 1011 G1 11.6-inch 2-in-1 convertible and HP Pro Tablet 408 G1 8-inch tablet are Windows 8 Pro devices, powered by Intel chips. They are aimed at executives who require the portability of a tablet when out and about, plus the productivity of a notebook PC back in the office.
The Intel Atom-powered HP Pro Tablet 10 EE (Windows) and HP Pro Slate 10 EE (Android) are designed to take a slight beating out in the field, having passed IP 52 testing for dust, moisture and drops and feature an optional stylus and keyboard base. These tablets are targeted for specific sectors like education, hospitality, manufacturing and retail.
HP went a step further with the ElitePad 1000 G2 Healthcare Tablet that specifically targets hospitals and caregivers. The tablet is housed in a case that has an antimicrobial treatment as well as a 2D barcode reader to quickly scan personnel and patient data.
Along with this, HP worked with partner Cerner to deliver customised healthcare solutions and apps to enhance the current workflow for clinicians.
The company also offers a variant called the ElitePad 1000 G2 Rugged Tablet for manufacturing or in-field environments. Aside from the aforementioned 2D barcode reader, the device comes with an IP 65 water- and dust-proof certification. It has also undergone military standard tests for durability.
On the software side, the company tied up with Intergraph and Microsoft to release a mobile app called Intergraph Mobile Responder, a dispatch solution that’s optimised for the tablet and aimed at emergency workers in public safety agencies.
For manufacturing and logistics, HP also brought in SAP’s Enterprise Asset Management solution, targeted at improving inventory management processes.
HP’s general manager for Singapore and Malaysia Serena Yong (pic above) told DNA that the company is well-poised to ride the business mobility wave, considering its legacy in the commercial space.
Many of her customers have requested for one to three-day workshops to hammer out how tablet solutions will improve productivity, so this will be a key initiative for her team. “I need to understand the workflow, business processes, policies and the way mobility is going to impact the workforce,” she said, reiterating her client’s demands.
IDC's Avinash added, “Top considerations for chief information officers (CIOs) are durability of the device, aftersales service and support, and enterprise-grade security on these devices. They are looking to solve specific problems with these devices and not just hand them out as an additional device to employees who already have a desktop or a laptop for their productivity.”
As such, Yong noted that aside from HP’s Enterprise Services arm and six other global independent software vendors (ISVs), her team is working with around a dozen local ISVs in Malaysia and Singapore to develop more solutions for the tablets.
Tackling the security and manageability issues were also top priorities when developing these products. All of the new models come with a platform-agnostic mobile device management (MDM) software called Touchpoint Manager that allows IT administrators to track and manage the devices remotely.
Andy Wong, HP’s director of Personal Systems Category, explained, “This is targeted more towards small and medium businesses (SMBs), although it can be also be used in large enterprises. It’s cloud-based, scalable and simple to use.”
Subscription to the service is US$2 per user per month for basic services, and US$10 per user per month for Pro features.
On the point of securing Android devices, Wong said HP is confident that “the security features that we’ve built in are very robust, the BIOS (basic input/ output system) is protected, down to the kernel, and the apps are all isolated as well”.
According to Yong, this “business-first” approach that revolves around devices, security and services has already resulted in a number of big wins, citing a transportation company in Singapore which is using its tablet solution for quality checks in the field.
Still, this market will be a tough one to own, considering Apple’s head start and tie-up with IBM to address the same customer requirements.
Avinash’s analysis shows that last year, the commercial segment that included iPads made up about 15% of the total market. Apple’s tablets were primarily deployed in the education sector in mature markets like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, while the retail and hospitality sectors stood out in private sector deployment.
For HP, it’s about choosing the right battles. "There are so many different segments, but for HP we want to stay focused on certain segments so that we can go deep and understand the workflow,” Yong said, citing healthcare and retail as examples.
And while this strategy may not elevate it to the top five tablet vendors list, HP says it’s aiming for profitability and margins, rather than market share.
The only question now is whether HP will continue to drive this forward and not repeat the mistakes of the past, when it flip-flopped on its tablet strategy.
As Avinash pointed out, “It still isn’t clear to me how its execution will be impacted by the eventual separation of the Enterprise and PPS groups at the end of this year. So that will be interesting to watch.”
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