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2/8/2011
03:33 PM
Gina Smith
Gina Smith
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HP Tablet Announcement Not Do Or Die

Its mobile plans are certainly worth watching, but they're not key to the company's long-term viability

The rumored HP and/or Palm tablet announcement set for tomorrow might be pivotal to the company’s mobile strategy and market positioning, as my colleague Fritz Nelson suggests, but it's hardly critical to HP as a going concern.

This is Hewlett-Packard we're talking about. Born before most of us were, this was the first IT company to top $100 billion in revenue -- in 2010 it reported $120 billion. The fortunes of HP, a strong player in a dozen hardware categories, won't ride on the success or failure of one tablet announcement on one day in the winter of 2011. I mean, come on.

True, HP paid way too much for Palm. It was a firesale, after all, and $1.2 billion was overtly generous, so HP needs to justify that expense. That's even considering Palm's solid brand and its once groundbreaking Web OS. Now the sheen is off. Now the Web OS needs a major updating, and so does the Palm hardware. The thing needs apps -- a lot of them. It would be great if HP announced improvements and enhancements like those tomorrow, but a failure to do so won't be fatal.

It's true that the tablet market, with Samsung and Motorola still hamstrung by the unavailability of Android 3.0, needs another player to take on Apple and the promise of RIM's Playbook, for that matter. We need more action here. Customers need the competition amped up. And tomorrow's announcement from HP makes for an excellent spectator sport.

But does HP have to prove its tablet greatness tomorrow or some other random day in the first half of this year? Hardly. This is an embryonic market. It's way early yet.

Live Blog: HP Tablet Announced
Live Blog: HP Tablet Announcement
(click image for more information)

HP has money and time to burn to get this right. It can and should hedge its bets with tablets of varying sizes using an array of operating systems, including Android 3.0. This is nothing new to HP, a computer company that never shied away from shipping Windows, Unix, and Linux boxes where appropriate.

If tomorrow Hewlett Packard does exactly the wrong thing -- announces no hardware, doesn't update the Web OS, can't show new apps for it, has nothing shipping for it, etc. -- even then HP won't suffer much.

Not over a tablet. Not now. Come back in six to 12 months and ask me what HP should do, and odds are that, even then, the company will still have time to figure out how to best compete in the tablet market.

HP will have a presence in tablets. It would be smart to come up with an enterprise-ready version -- that's an area where HP plays well.

But it doesn't have to nail it now. What is most at risk during tomorrow's announcement isn't HP. It's the Palm brand. Will Palm end up in the graveyard with Compaq and DEC? Many would hate to see that happen, and bless their souls, but HP was no worse for those acquisitions. It still got the people, technology and marketshare it wanted most. (From that perspective, the Compaq acquisition was a success, not a failure, for HP.) The same could go with Palm.

I know this is a mercenary way of looking at things. But that's tech. And this is HP -- a battleship of a company that can suffer a chink or three. No matter what happens tomorrow, HP won't be sinking anytime soon. It may not end up a hip tablet company, but when was the last time HP was hip? Never.

For Techweb, InformationWeek, and the upcoming BYTE.com, I'm Gina Smith.

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