HP tried to reinvent itself as Apple. But it didn’t work out, and now, new HP boss Meg Whitman has freely admitted that Apple could replace her embattled company as the world’s top PC maker sometime next year.
“I think it’s possible if you integrate tablets,” Whitman told Le Figaro, when asked if Apple could swipe HP’s crown. “Apple does a great job. We need to improve our game and our products to take over the leadership position. Apple could go past HP in 2012. We will try to become the champion in 2013. It will take time for the products that I have influence on to make it to the market.”
Later in the interview, Whitman said tablets were not comparable to traditional PCs, and she denied they were eating into the sales of traditional PCs. But her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, said something very different this summer. Clearly, she’s intent on challenging Apple on all fronts, despite the premature death of the much-hyped HP TouchPad. Whether or not Whitman sees tablets as PCs, she certainly believes these very mobile devices are needed to revive the company’s fortunes.
Earlier this month, Canalys — an IT research outfit covering markets in the Americas, Asia, and Europe — has already included tablets in its latest look at the PC business, and it’s confident Apple will surpass HP sometime in the second half of next year, with the version of the iPad likely taking the Jobsians over the top. “HP and Apple will fight for top position in Q4, but Apple may have to wait for the release of iPad 3 before it passes HP,” says Canalys Analyst Tim Coulling.
Not everyone agrees with the research firm’s stance. “I definitely don’t feel that the iPad is a PC — not just because Steve Jobs declared this the post-PC era, either!” says MacWorld editor Jason Snell. “To me, ‘PC’ refers specifically to one category of devices … and we know what those are. Mice, cursors, physical keyboards.” And HP tells us that Whitman echoed this characterization during her interview with the Le Figaro reporter, who was carrying a tablet.
“Is that your only device?” she asked the reporter.
“No,” he replied.
“That’s what we’ve seen a lot of,” Whitman said. “It’s an additional purchase.”
But tablets are worth including in the market — if only because they do eat into the sales of at least low-end notebook PCs. Tablet sales surpassed netbook sales in the second quarter of this year, according to ABI Research, and Leo Apotheker clearly acknowledged the impact of tablets just before he was ousted as HP’s CEO. “The tablet effect is real,” he said multiple times during a conference call this past August.
Big-name research outfit Forrester doesn’t include tablets in its PC market research, but it sees the value of doing do. “I think [it] is a very valuable perspective,” says Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. “iPads (tablets) are a new form factor of PC. iPads broaden the category of ‘computing’ devices, but they are different from older forms of computers in important ways.”
HP tried to challenge Apple with its own tablet, the TouchPad, based on the webOS mobile operating system it acquired with its purchase of Palm. And it envisioned webOS as a platform that would span myriad devices — from tablets and phones to desktops and even printers — turning HP into an Apple of the business world. “There is a word for what we have achieved … and that’s synergy,” said HP’s Jon Rubenstein, the former head of Palm and a top Steve Jobs disciple. “HP is bringing synergy to an incredible range of new products.”
But TouchPad sales were so poor HP killed its tablet after only a matter of weeks, and webOS is now confined to a tech world limbo. Speaking with Le Figaro, Whitman said a decision on the future of the OS would be made in two weeks. Whatever the company decides, the synergy idea is no more. HP will offer a Windows 8 tablet sometime next year, but Whitman says the company will need a second OS too as it revives its tablet business — and pushes to regain that PC crown two years down the road.
Additional reporting by Jon Phillips
Cade Metz is the editor of Wired Enterprise. Got a NEWS TIP related to this story -- or to anything else in the world of big tech? Please e-mail him: cade_metz at wired.com.