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HP has yet another stab at smartphones, with W10

PC giant defocuses on Android and launches Windows 10 Mobile handset, aiming for business users wanting a unified OS

Windows Phone may be a dead man walking, but the PC giants still cling to the dream of a unified platform spanning traditional and mobile devices. Hewlett-Packard, whose record in mobile operating systems has been particularly disastrous – especially its shortlived acquisition of Palm’s webOS – is following Dell in sidelining Android and focusing on Windows 10 Mobile for smartphones and tablets.

This is the latest example of the dilemma which has faced the PC industry – from Intel and Microsoft to the PC manufacturers – ever since the mobile device started to usurp the role of the desktop and notebook. Android has clearly won the handset OS wars, but it is dominated by cellphone players. The PC vendors have mainly failed to get a look-in on the Android space, so they are left, like Microsoft, relying on the convenience which a single OS offers business people, in particular, in order to preserve a role for Windows.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 launch was a make-or-break attempt to retain Windows’ dominance, especially in the enterprise, by promoting it as a top-to-bottom, all-devices OS. That is why the firm has been forced to hang onto a mobile edition (though this has been visibly a lower priority than the main PC version), despite the failure of Windows Phone and the ill-starred acquisition of Nokia’s devices. Windows 10 is having some success in the mobile world on tablets, notably with the rising adoption of hybrids like Microsoft’s own Surface. HP and Dell will be hoping that the trend continues and they can ride the wave to cling to some kind of relevance in the mobile, post-PC world.

HP is building its mobile strategy firmly around Windows 10 Mobile and has discontinued its low cost Android tablets, while not updating its enterprise models. NetworkWorld reports that HP executives say all future mobile devices will be built around W10 unless they see significant new demand for Android.
Dell has also cut Android devices to focus on Windows, after multiple failed attempts to become a mainstream smartphone vendor. Lenovo, of course, has a different strategy, having acquired the former Motorola handset unit from Google in its determination to be a mobile giant, but in the larger-screen device market, it has increased the number of Windows 10 hybrid PC/tablets it offers, and has reduced the number of Android tablets.

Many of these moves reflect the desperation of PC suppliers faced with the slow but certain death of their golden goose and with a mobile market which is run by other companies (even in the promising hybrids segment they now have to compete with Microsoft itself).

However, there are also worrying signs for Google and Android. The OS’s dominance of smartphones is unassailable, and is gaining ground even on iOS. But it has been less convincing in tablets, and that entire market has seen a dramatic slowdown in growth over the past couple of years. The most robust element is the hybrid, which against the odds is being driven by the old Microsoft/Intel partnership with the W10 Surface family. In other words, the incumbency of Windows, especially among business users with large-screened devices, may be far harder to disrupt than Google had hoped, even in the face of the decline of the PC.

HP is placing its hopes on Microsoft’s promise of a single platform for all products from server to PC to handset to M2M gadget. It is even re-entering the smartphone space for the umpteenth time, with the Elite X3 handset, running W10 Mobile (an OS with less than 1% global share, according to Gartner, while its predecessor Windows Phone has less than 4%). However, HP is not after massive handset sales, but is targeting high margin office workers with a handset that can also act as a PC replacement when connected to the cloud, running Universal Windows apps.

Michael Park, VP and general manager of mobility at HP, told NetworkWorld that W10 aligns better than Android with the company’s PC, virtual reality and augmented reality strategy – also a warning note for Google, which is placing VR/AR at the heart of the Android roadmap too. HP will bring AR apps based on Microsoft’s high-impact HoloLens technology to the Elite X3.

“We’re not trying to hit the volumes and scales of Android,” Park said in the interview. “We’re going after IT shops. There are a lot of people in the commercial domain who are not using Pokemon Go.” However, HP will include budget models in its Windows range – it has announced a Stream notebook running W10 for $199. The firm will continue to offer Chromebooks, which run Google’s other system, Chrome OS, but can also access Android apps. Android will also continue to be supported in some other areas such as mobile printing.

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