CRN Exclusive: HP Ready To Roll Out Business Tablet

Hewlett-Packard is aiming to derail the Apple iPad bring-your-own-device to work phenomenon with its own "expandable" and "serviceable" business tablet that is being backed up by one of the most aggressive HP channel sales enablement efforts in years.

Among the new HP tablet's channel-friendly features that mark it as a business-class system will be the ability for business partners to expand it with different options for specific vertical business solutions and to open the tablet to service it, said Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's $65 billion printing and personal systems business, in an exclusive interview Thursday with CRN at HP's Andover, Mass. facility. "This is the only serviceable tablet there is," boasted Bradley. "It is serviceable, and it is expandable."

[Related: HP Says Its Windows 8 Tablet Will Include 'Unique' Technology ]

Bradley would not provide pricing or specific product details for the new HP Tablet which is expected to be announced sometime in the next several weeks just in time for all the hoopla around Microsoft's expected Windows 8 launch. HP will spend "minimal time, if any time, on the consumer side" of the tablet market "right now," he said.

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The new business tablet marks HP's reentry into the tablet arena following the infamous August 18, 2011 announcement under former HP CEO Leo Apotheker when HP disclosed plans to kill the HP TouchPad tablet after only six weeks in the market and said it was considering strategic options for its PC unit that included a possible spin-off. Since Apotheker's departure last September, new HP CEO Meg Whitman has reaffirmed the company's commitment to the PC business and now is bringing the computer giant back into the tablet game.

"Obviously we are kind of reestablishing the category after the August 18, 2011 changes that were made," said Bradley discussing the TouchPad misstep. "So I don't know if we are overcompensating or just reevaluating how we market and go to market with new products. So you are seeing very large seed programs [to get the Tablets in the hands of partners]."

In fact, Bradley said HP has put more resources and muscle in terms of getting HP channel partners ready to sell the new tablet than any product offering since he joined the company in 2005. "It's all in with the channel,’ said Bradley. "We were with a whole group of partners last night for dinner. We talked about seed products for them to understand the tablet as well as seed products for their customers."

NEXT: HP Is Moving To Regain Partner Confidence

"We are spending a lot of time with people to regain their confidence and show our commitment," said Bradley. "I think our entire product lineup from printers to workstations to PCs to tablets as we get into the fall is going to show how committed we are to the space, how committed HP is to our business, and yeah, I think there is still some work we need to do to regain their confidence. That is why we are charging down this path. We have never done anything like this. This is a pretty significant commitment for us."

HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group (PPS) is planning a 20-city U.S. road show starting next month, inviting partners and their customers to see first-hand the benefits of the tablet and HP's full PPS product portfolio, said Bradley.

HP's all out focus on the channel is a big differentiator against both Apple's iPad and Microsoft's Surface Tablet product line, Bradley said. "From a competitive standpoint, we are showing a bigger commitment than any of them," he said.

Apple has been mounting an aggressive campaign to recruit channel partners to integrate Apple's iPad into businesses. Microsoft, meanwhile, has yet to let partners sell its new Surface Tablet.

"The product that we have developed, the serviceability of it, the ability for partners to make money with us on this tablet are just significant," said Bradley. "Compared to any of the other people in the marketplace, no one has a better focus on the enterprise than HP. The combination of an HP Windows 8 tablet gives enterprises the security that they want for their behind-the-firewall applications."

When asked what will be key differentiators vs. Apple, Bradley said serviceability, security, Windows 8 and easy access to current business applications all offer big improvements relative to the iPad.

As for the battle with Microsoft Surface, Bradley stressed that the biggest differentiator against Microsoft is HP is leveraging it strong partner base. "First and foremost, we are focused on selling our product through the channel," said Bradley. "I think the message from Microsoft was: 'If you want to sell Surface, come to a store and buy one.'"

HP's channel focus puts the company well ahead of both Microsoft and Apple in bringing a tablet to business customers, said Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN, a national enterprise HP partner headquartered in Waltham, Mass.

"It is obvious to anybody that knows anything about the channel that neither Apple nor Microsoft has the channel that HP has," said Phelps. "That is going to be a tremendous advantage bringing a product like this to the market.

"I have seen people trying to force the iPad into business applications and business usage," said Phelps. "It just doesn't fit perfectly in business so there are compromises. What HP has is a business-ready tablet. If that is what they are saying, bring it on. Now we have something to go out and offer the marketplace. We have been looking for this for quite a while."