Traditional PC sales have been in freefall for a couple of years now and tablets, initially identified as the cause and ultimately replacement, aren’t doing any better. That’s not to say that the traditional big PC companies aren’t still making money, they are albeit less than they were in days gone by.
The problem is that the real problems for PC hardware OEMs lie in the future, not the past. PC and tablet sales will continue to decline, commoditisation of the low end will bite deeper and the same Chinese and Indian companies that have risen up to take increasingly large chunks of the smartphone market will turn their focus to PCs.
HP is reasonably well placed to weather the coming storm following its split from HPE and a refocus on the things that HP have always been good at.
The purchase of Samsung’s printer division makes good business sense. Enterprise level printing contracts are hugely lucrative as I discussed earlier in the week, and HP now has capability and capacity to shake up the enterprise market whilst still remaining a strong contender in the consumer and small business printing sectors.
That same breadth of capability is visible in the PC hardware market too. HP manages to have competitive offerings in the low end Windows and ChromeBook personal device sector, where price is key and margins are slim. It has a solid range of business focused offerings, with a sensible progression from entry-level worker PCs through to slick, smart executive level machines. It’s premium range stands toe to toe with Apple – and it’s a sign of HP’s progress that it has outgrown and outperformed Apple across the premium laptop stack.
HP’s range of tablets and hybrid two-in-one machines are class leaders too, standing toe to toe with Microsoft. In fact at least some of HP’s progress is attributable to its close relationship with Microsoft, which has allowed it to develop Windows 10 PCs that offer the sort of hardware / software integration that was once a pipe dream for Windows users.
Last of all there is the Elite x3 smartphone. Set aside any preconceptions about what a phone can be and design a high end smartphone from scratch. You’d probably end up with the x3. For an enterprise phone its a very well focused device.
So what’s missing from the HP stack? Certainly one smartphone isn’t enough to deliver on its enterprise promise. At least one (possibly two) more Windows Mobile devices are required to flesh out an all encompassing enterprise offering. That those lower end phones could serve duty as consumer devices won’t be lost on the HP that has delivered such a comprehensive PC range.
As things stand HP has come out of the storm of the last decade and a half, where the dubious leadership of some equally dubious CEOs took it to places that it should never have been. And whilst the hardware market looks like it will be a challenge over the next decade I’d suggest that HP looks to be in pretty good shape to face that future.