/ Technology

HP ditches PCs – will you ditch yours too?

HP logo

Last week the globe’s largest PC manufacturer, Hewlett-Packard (HP), shocked the world. Weeks after its launch, HP canned its new tablet, gave up on mobiles and sold its PC division. Another nail in the PC’s coffin?

It was only last week that Sarah Kidner asked if the PC was dead here on Which? Conversation.

Her conclusion (rightly so) was no. And you seem to agree – so far 89% of you have said that you use a desktop PC or laptop as your main computing device.

This much is to be expected – outside the tech elite and affluent gadget fans, tablets are little more than a popular phenomenon, not a mainstream option.

But how do you square this correct conclusion with HP’s decision to not only ditch its tablet in its infancy, but extricate itself from the PC business as well? Why would the biggest PC manufacturer in the world, a leader in the industry for decades, decide to just give up and do something else instead?

PCs and laptops are good enough already

OK, so most people still want and need a PC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a lucrative business to be in.

PCs, and particularly laptops, have evolved to a point that, for most people, they do everything they need them to. Unless something breaks, people will hang on to what they’ve got and will spend as little as they can to replace it. Hardly a great recipe for companies to make money.

With webOS, the acclaimed mobile operating system HP purchased with Palm only last year, HP was as close to an Apple competitor as there was likely to be. But in giving up on its TouchPad tablet barely a month into its life, HP has limped off the field of battle with nary a shot fired.

Apple, which unlike other PC manufacturers commands large margins on its products, remains in a league of one and will likely continue to do so.

There will be less choice in future

HP’s consumer PC business will survive in one form or another, whether as an independent company or as part of another, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that others won’t.

If the largest PC business in the world is deemed surplus to requirements, how will others fare? It won’t happen overnight, but HP’s decision will surely get other executives thinking about their priorities.

Only Samsung has got close to giving Apple a challenge in the tablet market, and the current legal wrangling between the two even has that under threat. Android may be conquering all comers in the mobile market, but tablets are proving a tougher nut to crack – 2012 will be pivotal in deciding how things pan out.

We all need PCs and will continue to do so for a long time to come, but the industry is short of new ideas for PCs. This is why the ‘post-PC’ era, as coined by Steve Jobs, has garnered so much comment. It’s alienating for the majority of consumers to whom tablets are an expensive frivolity, but the hype will only become more intense.

Mark says:
23 August 2011

The problem with the concept of a “post-PC” world is that it’s still currently an iPad market, not a tablet market. HP’s decision is a long-term strategic one to reposition themselves out of a marketplace where it’s become a race to the bottom and the margins are razor thin. The problem with PC manufacturers is that they are all competing on price and technical specs, not brand value and customer support. They’ve failed to differentiate themselves in a way consumers care about, unlike Apple, so they are unable to charge a higher price.

The USP with Apple is that their products work and in a way that is mirrored across all their devices. Every product I have ever used on an apple has been a joy to use.

With PC’s/Android tabs there is no central QC which means that look & feel is all over the place, plus the apps are generally riddled with defects, requiring many updates. I am not saying that Apple is free from bugs, but due to their rigorous QC dept, every app has to be approved before distribution.

I still don’t think that the PC is dead, other than HP, I cannot think of too many PC manufacturers that are any way as prevalent as Apple in this world. They need to up their game rather than just meekly accept defeat. I honestly cannot believe that the shareholders are letting this happen, but maybe they have already tried and failed.

Perhaps the issue is that for PCs, you have to mostly use windows. If HP designed their own operating system then perhaps they would have a stronger market position.

Apple have their own hardware, operating system and application approvals process. No other manufacturer has this and the reliance on windows makes PCs notoriously unstable. If the stability and function of a computer that you sell is completely out of your hands then there is nothing that you can do.

PC manufacturers, make your own operating system, you will reap the rewards and release us all from the strangehold of windows and the millions of updates and security issues associated with windows.

Phil says:
23 August 2011

HP could’ve pulled out of the hardware market because they’ve finally acknowledged what everybody else has known for years; they’re not very good at it. Alternatively it could turn out to be their Marconi moment.


I’ve had and still have ten HP desktops and four HP laptops – they have never gone wrong – ever. I can’t say that for Apple (we used them for graphics and were always going wrong) I also didn’t like the design of Apple.being limited to Apple hardware.

The only reason I changed the HP units at all was because the third party “upgraded” software would no longer work with the original hardware – hardly HP’s fault.- The machines still work well with their original software.though slightly slower.

I can’t quite say the same for HP printers (I have 16) – Only one of the 7 HP 3P laser printers still works flawlessly – but they are all over 25 years old or so now. But the 3 ink-jets still make nice photos – and the 4 high speed – high definition – colour lasers work faultlessly after five years printing 1000’s of double sided pages a month Something my friends other make printers cannot match.

Dean Hallett says:
23 August 2011

I use my HP Mininote every day and swear by it – the problem is that like many things these days, computing products are sold on hype, not actual quality. HP make good products, but Apple has won the advertising/merchandising war.

Just to mention, HP has bizarrely dropped the price of its Touchpad table to as little as £89 (from almost £400) though it looks like they might already be out of stock.

They were snapped up quickly. So maybe people are really interested in ditching the PC for a tablet, if the price is right. Or maybe, it’s just about using them in tandem?


Phil says:
23 August 2011

We standardised on HP printers at work a couple of years ago and they’ve been an absolute nightmare, we’re on our fourth here already. Nothing would ever persuade me to buy another HP product.

Printer manufacturers produce good and bad models, so it is worth doing a little research and not necessarily choosing the latest model. My employer has switched to HP because some of the more recent Lexmark laser printers were causing a lot more problems than earlier models. My own experience with HP printers has been very good.

Aitch says:
24 August 2011

I’m amazed that HP stayed in the PC Laptop market this long – their DV series laptops ( post 2006 ) are the most frequent laptop through the door of my repair shop by a significant margin.

Craig says:
26 August 2011

HP have not been in the PC market that long. They purchased Compaq to be able to get into the market and their track record with acquisitions has not been good so they lost many key people in that business. Their products at first were very good quality, but expensive and they struggled against Dell, who produce affordable, quality PCs. They then belatedly got on the offshoring wagon to reduce cost, but quality and service plummeted as a result and damaged their reputation. With the rise of eastern competitors and their drive to take market share, HP have been struggling to keep pace. Acer I see are in trouble as well, no doubt over extending themselves to steal market share through very aggressive pricing (although quality is truly shocking).

This is a shame in the end there will be Apple with the quality hardware and the rest fighting for market share and a race to the bottom. This will result in more and more dissatisfaction with the quality of PCs. Let’s face it, compared to a Mac, they are a poor relation already. This race will start moving people to tablets and the market will change dramatically. Perhaps Microsoft will buy the business and begin making PC’s that are built with the OS (ala Apple) and produce a quality PC to rival Apple in the same way that Google are doing with Motorola on the tablet/smart phone front.

HP’s WebOS was actually a very good effort, slow, but the only real competitor to Apple. They should have immediately driven app development by offering developers a better deal than the 30% charged by Apple, say 5%, and slashed the price of the device. Then fixed the device with a second release that was thinner and faster. We would then have had a real option to iPad.

Ah, but hindsight is useless and predictions a dark art 😉

HP’s issue is leadership, or more correctly the lack of it. They bought Compaq in 2002 (?) and less than 10 years later they are wanting out. They showcased the ‘Slate’ before the iPad was a rumour, got major reviews at CES that year, yet a couple of weeks after the release of iPad they killed it and bought Palm. Now they have released am imperfect tablet, but one with loads of promise and again killed it before it could take a couple of breaths.


Pete Massingham says:
28 August 2011

The whole computer, laptop, ipad, tablet, mobile phone markets are absolutely filled with hype and nonsense. people have been conditioned over the years to believe that they must have as many gadgets as possible for their lives to be functional. It just is not the case! There is a growing number of people who do not aquire any of these things and get on just fine in life! So, while HP is pulling out of the PC market, it really isn’t a big deal unless you have invested heavily in and become dependent on the system. Lets keep things in perspective. These things are great tools but are essentially a designers and manufacturers dream for making easy money. No decent profit – no business. They are not really interested in what you or I want or need. I own Apple gear. It has been both good and bad over the years and I detest the fact that they force you to use essentially their own program software when the field of software and hardware technology is so massive. People have become obsessed with computing gear! Get a life!

I have a Palm Tungsten E on which I heavily rely. I have tried to find a smartphone which does as much because it, and my phone, are both heavy. I have had no success, nothing can compete with my palm, I love it, what will I do when it dies?

PC’s will never die because of 1 key fact data storage. You need somewhere to store your data and stream media to other devices and this will be your PC regardless of if it is a server it will still be a PC. I for 1 do not see tablets being able to play games like Stacraft 2, civilisation 5, Space marines etc for a long time, that is the PC and console area.

As I understand it – HP have changed their mind – and I’m very pleased/

Yes, you’re right Richard. Thanks for finding out – in fact they’re launching two new desktops at CES: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-04/hp-aims-to-stand-out-from-mobile-device-frenzy-with-desktop-pcs.html