Winning To Lose: HP’s Hardware Sales Were Strong But That’s Not Where The Money Is

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If you look carefully at why HP bailed on consumer electronics and PCs, there are a few clear and simple reasons. The primary one? HP was number one in sales but – at least by Amplicate’s arguably loose methodology – number seven in mindshare. In the end, it looks like it was better to let someone else flog the hardware while HP did what it always did best: tell businesses how to spend money in tech.

So who is taking over for HP? Well, according to a Digitimes report, it looks like HP will be handing the keys to their brand over to Samsung, much as IBM did when it partnered with Lenovo to sell laptops and PCs.

Samsung has tapped Quanta, Compal, and Pegatron – three mainstream hardware vendors – to examine the possibility of outsourcing orders. The Digitimes piece focuses on netbooks, but it’s clear that this move would make Samsung’s products cheaper and allow the company to ramp up in order to take over HP’s 40 million-unit-strong business and maintain its own lucrative trade.

So we’ve established motive, we’ve established some culprits, but we haven’t established timing. Why now? Why so suddenly? Gruber nails it:

The thing is, Apotheker’s relevant experience was serving as CEO of SAP. What’s SAP? SAP is an enterprise software and consulting company. Honestly, we all should have seen this coming. You don’t bring in an enterprise consulting guy to turn around a PC and device maker. You bring in an enterprise consulting guy to turn a PC and device maker into an enterprise consulting company.

Whether HP goes to Samsung, Sony, or Asus is immaterial. What’s important to note is that Asian hardware manufacturers own the market and folks like Dell and HP saw the writing on the wall. Why compete in low margin hardware when you can sell the brand and let it live on – or not – at another manufacturer. Samsung would kill to have HP’s U.S. sales numbers.

The problem, however, is that HP commands no respect in the marketplace. This is where the IBM/Lenovo comparison breaks down. The ThinkPad line was historically a workhorse, considered by many to be the apotheosis of the fleet laptop. If you were a business traveller in the later 90s/early to mid aughts you wanted a ThinkPad and begrudgingly accepted a Dell or and HP. Aside from the Dell Dude, who has ever been excited to get a major name laptop from those companies? Alienware Area 51, maybe. Dell Inspiron, not so much.

So HP sheds a shackle and, with Samsung’s manufacturing power, that shackle becomes another link in that manufacturer’s golden chain. HP sunsets itself over the next decade, receding out of the dog-eat-dog world of hardware sales and it becomes as charmingly quaint as an IBM consultant in his pinstriped wool suit and white shirt. Why play in the messy, cyclical world of hardware, full of fickle, complaining consumers when you can take in $500 million for a tax system in Arizona. When this recession is over, organizational spending will pop like a cork and HP will be primed to take a drink.