HP eyes smartphones, but it may not eye the U.S. market

After the smoking $1.2 billion disaster that was WebOS, HP appears to have brushed itself off and is poised for a second go at the mobile market as its core PC business wobbles.

HP recently released the HP Slate 7, a $170 Android-powered tablet designed to undercut the competition and (hopefully) erase the bitter TouchPad taste from the mouths of consumers. Next up: a smartphone.

When The Indian Express asked Yam Su Yin, HP’s senior director of consumer PCs and tablets for Asia-Pacific, about potential plans for an HP smartphone, Yam replied: “The answer is yes, but I cannot give a timetable. It would be silly if we say no. HP has to be in the game.”

Indeed it does in this increasingly mobile world. But would an HP’s first do-over foray into the smartphone market succeed in the U.S., or indeed, even appear here? Don’t hold your breath.

Emerging in emerging countries

Yam’s comment echoes what HP CEO Meg Whitman said all the way back in September.

Remember the iPaq?

“We have to ultimately offer a smartphone because in many countries of the world that is your first computing device,” Whitman said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

“You know, there will be countries around the world where people may never own a tablet, or a PC, or a desktop,” she said. “They will do everything on the smartphone. We’re a computing company; we have to take advantage of that form factor.”

Note the thrust of Whitman’s comments. She’s clearly saying that an HP smartphone would fill a niche in developing nations, where traditional computers are far less common than they are in countries like the United States.

Also note that Yam’s comments come from a director of the Asia-Pacific division, rather than a Western HP representative. Lenovo, HP’s arch-nemesis, took its first steps into the smartphone market by offering affordable Android devices in China and other developing markets, where the U.S.’s Apple-Samsung duopoly isn’t so firmly entrenched. On the surface, the comments by senior HP officials make it seem as though HP looks ready to do the same.

Shaking things up

Both Yam and Whitman said that HP’s smartphone will stick out from the crowd in some way.

The epic Lenovo vs. HP battle is moving to smartphones. (Shown here: the Lenovo K900, sold in Asia.)

“Being late you have to create a different set of proposition,” Yam said. “There are still things that can be done. It’s not late. When HP has a smartphone, it will give a differentiated experience.”

It’s hard to imagine HP being able to carve out much of a niche in the ultra-competitive low end market, but if the company does decide to make a run at the U.S. arena, HP has an opportunity to shine.

Thus far, manufacturers have left the business end of the smartphone market woefully underserved, and HP could make a name for itself by offering a smartphone that packs all the features that business owners are asking for and hooks into HP’s PC-based offerings.

But then again, I said that the exact same thing when Lenovo announced plans to ship smartphones in the U.S., and that initiative has a big head start on whatever HP’s doing.

No matter what HP’s plans are, nor what part of the world we can expect to see an HP smartphone debut in, Yam and Whitman are absolutely right about one thing: HP indeed has to be in the mobile game in this increasingly mobile world, especially with traditional PC sales tapering off.

For HP’s sake, here’s hoping that the second go-‘round fares better than WebOS.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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