HP Aims to “Reinvent” Mobile

on March 9, 2016

HP recently announced its new Elite X3 convertible smartphone that can become a notebook or a desktop through use of smart adapters and wireless technology. Running Windows 10, it’s targeted at enterprise users who want portability but are not able to get all their work done on a smartphone form factor. It sports some impressive technology, including the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of memory, a huge 4150 maH battery, a Gorilla Glass 4 9.6” edge-to-edge high res display, full Cat 6 LTE modem, dual SIM capability, and Mil Std 8 durability. To compliment and extend the core device, HP has created a desk solution that allows the phone to rest in a dock and provide connectivity via Display Port and Ethernet to a full size display and keyboard as well as corporate networks. HP also created a mobile extender (called ME-Dock) that essentially coverts the device into a 12.5″ laptop.

HP is going for the Swiss Army Knife approach with this device. It believes users would prefer a single device that can be configured “on the fly” to the user’s needs and circumstances. Such handheld convertible approaches have been tried before (all the way back to Palm days) with limited success. HP is betting this time is different, driven by the adoption and standardization on Windows 10. But there are a few challenges to this strategy.

First, Windows 10 is not all that good at legacy apps. To fix this, HP includes a VDI environment it OEM’s from Citrix, which it calls HP Workspace. This is more than just Microsoft Continuum, as it is a full VDI solution that can run any Windows app loaded on the virtual server. However, and this is a major issue, it only works in an on-line scenario. If users want to interact with a legacy app, say on an airplane with no WiFi, they cannot. This may be the kiss of death for some users wanting to work with legacy corporate apps, as they can’t be natively loaded on the device (Windows 10 running on a Qualcomm chip only supports the newer Windows 10 native universal app environment).

Second, HP has not announced pricing for any of this yet. Given the high performance features of the device, it appears it will be fairly expensive. And given that a user would have to buy multiple components to make it into both a smartphone and a desktop/notebook replacement, it may be cost prohibitive. HP is betting it will still cost less than buying a feature rich smartphone and a business class 2-in-1 or Ultrabook class machine.

Third, the size of the device puts it squarely into the upper end of the phablet range, not as a replacement for the popular smartphones in the 5-6 inch range. While phablet class devices are picking up in popularity, especially with business users who can utilize the bigger screen, the majority of users still purchase a smaller, more “svelte” device. Can a device, sized in the range of smaller tablets, be competitive as a smartphone communications device with users?

Fourth, many users of smartphone devices rely on a growing list of apps available from the various app stores. Running Windows 10 means this device will have access to far fewer apps, both for business and personal use. This has been a shortcoming of Windows phones for some time and it is likely many potential users would not find this an acceptable substitute for their iOS or Android-powered devices. Even if this is primarily targeted at enterprise users, the availability of personal apps is still a driving factor for device selections (hence the whole BYOD movement).

Finally, to take full advantage of the benefits of Windows 10 requires new apps be compliant across all form factors. However few companies have redesigned their apps for this new universal app requirement. Given the history of business apps, it will take many years before the majority of such enterprise apps are available, hence the need for HP Workspace. But will companies want to deploy yet another infrastructure product, even if it is relatively easy to do?

HP is taking a gamble on an approach that might have appeal to the growing number of users who are burdened with having to use several devices to get their jobs done. Clearly, this is not a device for the mass consumer market. But the price and performance of this product will have a major impact on acceptance.

Bottom line: It is encouraging that HP is trying to regain its reputation for innovation of years past. But this tablet sized device may just be too big for a majority of users replacing their smartphones. Further, the need for convenience apps so prevalent in the Android and iOS ecosystem will be a limiting factor for many mobile users. Clearly this is innovative and a major addition to HP’s product line. But acceptance (and success) is not assured.