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New HP Slate 7 Reveals Company’s Lack of Vision

Let’s take a brief journey through history. In early 2011, HP tried to gain a foothold in the nascent tablet market with the TouchPad, using the WebOS acquired from Palm. In those days, there wasn’t much competition beyond the iPad, so some industry pundits expected HP to make a big splash.

Only it didn’t happen, and, within weeks, HP decided to cut their losses, and dump the remaining stock for $99 each. Within short order, HP was out of the smartphone and tablet business yet still trying to figure out what to do with the Web OS. Stung by this unexpected, to them, failure, HP didn’t have any more faith in pushing the WebOS platform. In contrast, Microsoft will often ignore huge financial losses for years hoping to make a product or service successful. It worked with the Xbox, though the modest profits will never compensate for the previous losses.

Now HP is trying yet again to become a contender in the tablet market with the forthcoming Slate 7 tablet, which uses the Android OS. At $169, it may even be competitive with existing low-end gear, particularly the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire series. But it’s also clear that HP doesn’t really have anything special to bring to the table.

Aside from the usual meaningless specs using generic hardware, in this case an ARM Dual-Core Cortex-A9 1.6 GHz processor, HP boasts the use of Beats Audio to enhance the sound from the small tablet. As with existing Android competition, the Slate 7 has a widescreen display, which doesn’t deliver a credible amount of screen real estate when viewed horizontally.

But you have to wonder why HP is even bothering, since there doesn’t appear to be much, if anything, that’s new and different with the HP tablet. Specs are par for the course, the price clearly won’t deliver decent profits for the company; at best, HP will break even or earn a few dollars. Since the Slate 7 is intended to be an introduction to a full product line, perhaps future models will offer something more compelling, but don’t bet on it.

All HP is doing is jumping onto the Android bandwagon with generic hardware, hoping the brand name will count for something, anything. For a while I’ve been wondering whether the latest CEO, Meg Whitman, has a clue about how to take the company forward, and it’s clear she doesn’t, if you consider the Slate 7 as an example. Why on earth would anyone consider this tablet as a worthy alternative to any other commodity Android tablet, let alone an iPad? HP’s excuse: “HP is the number one PC manufacturer in the world, and we want to be the number one computer vendor in the world. That means we need to be in the tablet space.”

OK, I’m looking for a strategy, but I don’t see one. Indeed, regarding HP as number one depends on accepting their traditional definition of what a PC really is, and their definition makes a tablet a computer but not a PC, if you can accept that distinction. Based on that definition, Apple is the number one computer maker on the planet right now. How does HP expect to make a dent?

HP’s excuse, also from their press announce, is that it’s their “intent to have a broad set of products on the market.”

That statement appears to mean lots of barely-differentiated models, hoping to flood every nook and cranny of the tablet market with different display sizes and configurations, in the hope that something might stick.

But that’s nothing new for PC makers. There’s a long history of building loads of models that look and work the same as supposedly competing products from other companies. I went through HP’s information on the Slate 7, and wasn’t able to find anything that truly makes it stand out among loads of Android-based tablets. Minor spec and feature differences aren’t sufficient, and it appears to me that HP still doesn’t understand what made it great, and why the company has floundered for several years.

And Whitman, a failed candidate for governor of California, is destined to fail at fixing what ails HP. Sure, maybe the company will flail around, continue to demonstrate no appetite for innovation with me-too products, and still make a profit. Perhaps the HP name will, to some, be sufficient to choose a product with that brand name over a mostly similar product with someone else’s brand name. Or maybe not.

As to the failed WebOS, instead of being open sourced, the technology and the remaining employees have been acquired by LG, who will use it to power a new line of “smart” TV sets. I suppose among TV interfaces, that may actually be a good thing. But it’s interesting that LG will not embed that OS in their lineup of smartphones and tablets, where the WebOS failed miserably. But they are certainly following Microsoft’s lead in taking a failed OS and trying it out on a different product hoping things will be different.