Despite last year's epic failure of the TouchPad, Hewlett-Packard still believes it can knock Apple's iPad off its lofty perch in the enterprise tablet market.
HP has been teasing its forthcoming Windows 8 tablet in television commercials and will have more information to share about the device "pretty soon," said John Solomon, senior vice president of Americas sales for HP's printing and personal systems division, in an interview last week.
"We will be very focused on the commercial tablet opportunity, which is completely under penetrated. And, we have some unique intellectual property that we're going to apply," Solomon told CRN.
Solomon declined to elaborate on the unique technology HP's Windows 8 tablet will contain, but he did paint it as a product that is tailor-made for the channel. Judging from his characterization, it appears that HP will target vertical markets in its initial Windows 8 tablet push.
"Other OEMs will be doing tablets, but the HP tablet is going to be different: It's going to have a specific area of focus, or multiple areas of focus, which will require a high degree of channel engagement to take full advantage of the opportunity," Solomon told CRN.
HP partners could be forgiven for feeling skeptical about these claims. HP executives gushed about the channel opportunities in the run-up to the TouchPad launch, but when HP deep-sixed the tablet after seven weeks on the market, many partners felt like they had been taken for a ride.
Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider, agrees with HP's assessment of the commercial tablet market, but says tapping into the opportunities is more difficult than it may seem.
"It’s hard to compete with the iPad -- it’s by far the best tablet out there," Fisher told CRN. "And, our previous attempts to sell tablets through the channel, with products like the TouchPad and Toshiba Thrive, have meant trying to convince customers that they don’t want an iPad in exchange for a few dollars. It’s not a good argument to make, or a profitable transaction for the VAR."
NEXT: How HP Plans To Compete With AppleThe iPad has gained a foothold in enterprises via the bring-your-own-device trend. Apple is now looking to cement this position by building a channel of Microsoft partners to handle large-scale iPad and iPhone projects.
HP's Windows 8 tablet could face a tough climb, and to make things easier for its channel, HP is giving partners 60-day financing for tablets and other products under a recently launched program that includes the participation of Wells Fargo, GE Capital, IBM and De Lage Landen.
"Essentially, we're helping pay the interest cost for partners and making sure cash flow is not an inhibitor for them growing," HP’s Solomon said. "This is something we haven't done in the past, and we think of it as proof of what we're doing to re-ignite the channel."
HP CEO Meg Whitman has previously earmarked security and management as areas where HP could improve upon Apple's iPad, and Solomon echoed this line of reasoning. "There is a logic to being in a space where there is already a set of tools that IT managers and VARs are already comfortable with," he said.
HP was quiet in the wake of Microsoft's unveiling of its Surface tablet, but Solomon said HP does not see it as a competitive threat.
"I believe Microsoft was basically making a leadership statement and showing what's possible in the tablet space," Solomon said. "Our relationship has not changed at all due to Microsoft's announcement. In fact, I applaud it -- I think it's great that they are getting out in front and [showing] what's possible."
With Surface, Microsoft has included a pressure-sensitive cover that doubles as a fully functioning keyboard and trackpad. By straddling the line between content creation and consumption, Microsoft Surface could compete with HP's Ultrabooks, but Solomon isn't concerned about the potential for conflict.
"The keyboard that they showed for Surface is a great occasional use keyboard," Solomon said. "But if you're a professional content creator, there's no way you're going to use a keyboard like that for every day use."
PUBLISHED AUG. 14, 2012