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Just A Thought
by Vern Seward

Note To HP: It Takes More Than New Products, But Please Keep Trying
August 18th, 2003

Apple, with its snazzy hardware and tightly integrated software, has in many ways become a bellwether of the computing industry. When you're a leader, those who follow either want to be like you, or they want to be you. It is apparent that HP wants to be like Apple, at least for now, according to an article last week in Fortune that asks "Is HP The New Apple?" Author, David Kirkpatrick takes a look at a recent event in which HP announced 158 new products and the apparent direction in which HP is heading. From the article:

"Is HP the new Apple?" Omar Wasow leaned over and asked me during the company's massive product launch in New York Monday. He is NBC's tech impresario who advises Oprah and directs BlackPlanet.com. I told him I had only minutes before written in my notebook, "HP moving to become the Apple of the PC world."

It's a comparison HP willingly invited as it introduced 158 new products all at once--from printers to PCs to cameras to inexpensive photo paper. Apple of course has led the way toward a vision of integrated digital consumer devices and software for imaging, music, and video. But HP, said CEO Carly Fiorina onstage, didn't merely want to "think different," in an allusion to Apple's marketing slogan, but to "rethink everything."

That was overstatement, but many of HP's new products really were innovative--like the PC that had a built-in camera holder. Slip your HP digital camera into it, press one button, and pictures are on your PC. Press another button and they're printed (if your printer is hooked up right). CEO Carly Fiorina bragged onstage that this represented the fulfillment of HP's promise in January 2002 to reduce the steps required for taking and printing digital images from 58 to 3. I'm sure they were generous in their initial count, but regardless, they have made things easier. Another cool technology is what they call "adaptive lighting." It compensates on the camera for underlit or overlit portions of a photo so that the resulting picture is properly exposed throughout. HP also launched a scanner that is basically two pieces of glass surrounded by plastic. Hold it up to anything and it will scan it into your PC--almost like a camera.

The full article at Fortune is an interesting read, so stop by and check it out.

One of the hardest things about being a leader is staying a leader. There is always someone waiting in the wings for you to misstep. Sometimes they don't wait, and take matters into their own hands.

Apple's leadership in innovation and the synergistic environment that has become the hallmark and Holy Grail of other computing platforms is tenuous; it only takes another 'Jobs' in the right circumstances to do what Apple and the original Jobs has done and continues to do, or even to best Apple at its own game. It should not take a lot of imagination to see another company, HP perhaps, stealing the innovation crown from Apple.

However, announcing a boatload of products does not mean that a company has cornered the innovation market, as Microsoft can readily tell you. Apple has worked hard to be recognized as an innovative company; not just through cool products, but through services, industrial design, and a customer experience that many find hard to duplicate. Microsoft, with its billions, has not done it, Linux with its thousands of programmers has not done it, and I don't believe that HP can pull it off either. Being Apple is not a switch you can flip and suddenly you've created an iPod, I believe that HP will learn this.

Still, the fact that a company as large as HP would want to be like Apple is a compliment Apple cannot ignore. HP and Apple have had an interesting relationship over the years and Apple should attempt to make that relationship even tighter. HP does have the printer market in its back pocket; closer ties between Apple and HP could yield some interesting products.

Back to the article: I see it as interesting speculation. I don't see HP challenging Apple leadership position, at least not yet, though I think that Jobs and crew should keep a wary eye on HP. The company is, at the very least, hungry enough to give Apple some real competition in this area. That's not something anyone else in the Wintel industry can seem to say, save, perhaps, Sony. Really though, that's another topic altogether.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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