Why HP should embrace Android for tablets
Step by step, HP appears to be untangling itself from Windows.
Following HP’s announcement of its first Chromebook, the company is allegedly working on its first Android tablet, according to two unnamed sources cited by Read Write’s Taylor Wimberly. Details are scarce, but the tablet will reportedly be a high-end product with an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor—not a budget tablet, in other words—and it could be announced in the coming weeks.
"I think it's a smart move if HP can invest enough to differentiate itself within the Android ecosystem," says Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Strategy and Insights.
How can HP do that? Moorhead has a suggestion that plays to the company's recent business-friendly focus. "Enterprise needs a hardened version of Android to feel safe about it as an operating system, particularly when it comes to things that have sensitive data, such as HIPAA, medical information, and government information," he says. "That's an area of differentiation that HP can bring to the table."
Making the case for an HP Android tablet
It’s easy to see why HP would want to expand its horizons. The market for Windows PCs appears to be shrinking, as people buy tablets instead of replacing their old laptops. Right now, there’s not much evidence that people want those tablets to run Windows 8.
Most people who aren’t buying iPads are buying Android tablets or a loosely Android-based device like Amazon’s Kindle Fire. It’s definitely too early to count Windows out, but for HP, it’s not too soon to start looking at other options, either.
The timing is right for the company to give Android a try. HP released its first Windows 8 hybrid, the Envy X2, late last year. That model will have to carry HP well into 2013 until Intel releases its Bay Trail and Haswell chips that will be better-suited for tablets and hybrids. There’s really no reason for HP to churn out any new Windows 8 tablets in the meantime.
Meanwhile, Nvidia’s Tegra 4 chip was just announced last month, so HP could be one of the first vendors to use it in an Android tablet. (Vizio has also announced a Tegra 4 tablet, and Toshiba is rumored to be working on one.) A lot of tablet makers are targeting the fiercely competitive budget market right now, so it makes sense for HP not to bloody itself in that fight by focusing instead on a higher-quality product.
Of course, simply making an Android tablet is not the same as making a successful one. Many companies have tried making high-end Android slates over the last couple of years. and most of them have failed to gain any market traction.
The one exception is Samsung, whose marketing muscle and differentiated features—there's that word again!—such as the stylus-driven interface in the Galaxy Note 10.1 have given it a decent piece of the market share pie.
HP would have to come up with more than just a slim slab with good specs; it needs software that stands out from the pack.
And that’s the thing: With Windows, there’s not a lot of room for customization. PC makers can pre-load their machines with various apps, but that’s about it. The flexibility of Android allows device makers to customize and add features that the stock Android OS doesn’t have. If the rumor is true, HP’s biggest challenge will be to come up with interesting software features that don’t just seem like bloatware.
As far as Windows alternatives go, it’s worth a shot—more so than WebOS.
Brad Chacos contributed additional reporting to this article.