Is HP trying to be the new Apple?

Posted by Rob Enderle

Frankly, it has frustrated me for years to watch Apple’s success - while traditional bumbling PC companies continue to ignore the obvious point that yes, design and presentation actually do matter.

I’m at HP’s big stockholder event and one of the concepts Meg Whitman emphasized during the conference was design. Wait, what? HP finally realizes that design matters?! Okay, now I'm suddely paying attention.

The emphasis on design was clearly illustrated during HP's presentation of its new Windows 8 hardware lineup. Instead of having some random company bigwig introduce the products in a boring way, the company kicked off a presentation that was reminiscent of Apple's biggest and best product launches. I mean, you could have done a near line by line comparison between Apple’s presentation of their new iPhone and Hewlett Packard's new Windows 8 product lineup.

Now, I'd like to point out that I'm not talking about HP trying to copy Apple’s products, but rather, how the company is now approaching its devices with an eye out for design. Remember, Samsung copied Apple, only to be successfully sued by Cupertino. In contrast, HP is emulating the process of creating and presenting beautiful products - and emulating a best practice only has upsides.

HP Design Language

The fact that HP even spoke about "design language" was a pleasant surprise.  I should probably explain that the new HP design is brushed metal, which carries across the company's premium Spectre and Envy lines of PC products - including all-in-one desktops, laptops and tablets.

One feature the execs seemed to focus on was the consistent diamond cut edge on their devices, a design element also inherent to the new iPhone, which helps make both lines far more elegant. However, if you think about it, HP is actually being consistent with this design language across more products than Apple is. Honestly, I can’t recall a time when this has been the case, at least in terms of both elegance and consistency.

Perhaps the most interesting product is the touch-enabled HP Spectre One, which boasts a large multi-touch touchpad. Now I’ve been using Windows 8 and touchscreen all-in-ones for a couple of years now, and the primary issue with large screen products is that we tend to set them farther back on the desk - making touching the screen difficult. Plus, the PC ends up covered with fingerprints on the screen that are a real pain to polish all the time.

Yes, you have clean a tablet as well, but it is reallty so much easier to wipe off stuff from your tablet on your lap than a large screen at arm’s length. I actually think a large touchpad with a large screen all-in-one, or any large screen desktop is a better choice than the more typical touchscreen, plus  it’s far less expensive. This also allows the product to be slimmer, lighter (less likely to tip over) and yes, more slick.

For example, HP's Spectre XT laptop boasts identical design language in what is a very sleek, well
proportioned, powerful mobile PC. This is arguably one of the most attractive laptops on the market
but what I'd like to stress here is that the device uses the same beautiful design language as the other offerings from this line.

The Envy x2 Hybrid Tablet represents the implementation of this design language in a hybrid tablet. With
the keyboard the hybrid is a touch laptop, without it is a beautiful tablet. Of course, you can also feel quality in both the finish and the unique hinge which angles the keyboard when you open the screen. While the line generally screams elegance, this tablet is likely the most elegant.

However the most unique product HP showcased today is its ElitePad, which reached back into the company's not so distant past to when it had the most unusual PDA known as the iPaq. This product, which originated from the Compaq side of the HP acquisition, was the very first implementation of a modular computer (an IBM design concept) by a major vendor.

Yes, IBM had created the concept but never delivered a product, yet HP actually shipped one. The idea was to have a core computer which you could modify to a variety of focused tasks though the use of jackets. Essentially, this is what the business-focused ElitePad offers: a lineup of optional jackets that can add unique functions and focus a tablet for specific scenarios. The product is kind of an anti-iPad in terms of this capability, which was also designed to be repaired in the field. Yes, folks drop tablets all the time, so fixing them becomes far more critical when you move from games and watching movies to doing actual work.

Wrapping Up: Closing In On Apple

Most of the above-mentioned products are accompanied by HP's "white glove" service, which provides a unique call center to handle problems and on-site or overnight repairs. Yes, HP still depends on Microsoft and others to complete their end to end consumer solutions, but this is the farthest that any PC vendor has gone
to duplicate an Apple like design process across a large number of highly consistent products .

More beautiful, better designed products serve us all well and the trend to emphasize design is something I expect you’ll see move more broadly now that HP is on board. As a side note it has been a long time since I’ve seriously considered an HP product, yet suddenly I want a couple of those laptops and tablets.