HP and Dell are back in the tablet business. Undeterred by recent failures, both hardware makers took new stabs at the lucrative tablet market by introducing Windows 8 products at the IFC 2012 Convention in Berlin.
Dell’s XPS 10 and HP’s Envy X2 offer insight into how tech companies plan to infiltrate a mobile device arena already crowded by Apple and Microsoft’s much-ballyhooed Surface tablet, due in October.
Dell’s XPS 10 replaces its Streak series of Android-fueled tablets, which enjoyed some auspicious early responses but were ultimately discontinued because hardware and software capabilities simply weren’t competitive.
For the new effort, Dell has ditched Google’s mobile OS for Windows RT, the ARM-based version of Microsoft’s triad of Windows 8 products. Dell was somewhat tightlipped about the new device, withholding technical specs for now. It is known, however, that the product will sport a 10-inch touchscreen, can be connected to a keyboard dock, and boasts a scant thickness of 10mm–roughly the same width as the iPad 3. Dell is positioning battery life as a particular selling point, as the XPS 10 should run for up to 20 hours when connected to the keyboard peripheral, which includes its own battery.
HP’s Envy X2, meanwhile, runs the full version of Windows 8. It features an 11.6-inch touchscreen that supports 1366-by-768-pixel resolution but is somewhat thinner than the XPS10, at 8.5mm thick. Powered by a low-consumption Intel Atom processor, the Envy X2 will be marketed as a true tablet-laptop hybrid; all units will ship with a detachable keyboard that uses magnets to secure the screen. The product also includes Near Field Communication technology that allows users to share content across devices by lightly tapping them together; 64 GB of solid-state storage; and two cameras—an 8-megapixel one on the rear, and a 720p user-facing unit. The laptop configuration weighs 3.1 pounds, but the device’s heft is reduced by half when the tablet is detached.
With the Envy X2, HP hopes to gain the mainstream traction that its TouchPad products never could. Though TouchPad owners recently enjoyed a very modest second wind when it was revealed that the device could support Android, HP’s mothballed line was otherwise a non-starter. Existing stock of the tablets were liquidated in an online fire sale late last year, and HP released the devices’ webOS source code, a hyped but disappointing result of HP’s Palm acquisition, to the masses.
Forrester senior analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said in an interview said she receives many inquiries from businesses that want to deploy tablets across their workforces. “We’re in a different world than in the PC era,” she noted, adding that the BYOD movement has forced companies that could once dictate what workers used to begin accommodating employee preference.
According to Rotman Epps, the iPad has been the “only device that anyone would recommend” because of its consumer-facing apps and ability to support different user experiences for different types of employees. Still, she said, the enterprise tablet industry has room to grow because the iPad’s construction isn’t ideally suited for all tasks. Other manufacturers have offered “more blue-collar, durable” hardware that’s better suited to specific business needs, but such products haven’t featured compelling software features. In this regard, she asserted that Dell and HP are looking to Windows 8 as a bridge.
Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research, said forecasts suggest only around 1.5% of tablets shipped worldwide will include a Windows OS by the end of the year. The modest market penetration has more to do with Windows 8′s late October availability than any known problems with the new devices. He claimed that Dell needs a home run–and indeed, despite promising growth in the storage market, the Texas-based company missed earnings expectations in the most recent fiscal quarter due to diminishing PC sales. Dell stated that XPS10 is suitable for “work and play,” suggesting enterprise applications, but Orr is skeptical, as Windows RT does not support legacy x86 applications. Rotman Epps echoed this statement, remarking that businesses want products that “work with their existing stuff.”
Orr said that HP’s refusal to offer the Envy X2 in a tablet-only configuration, without the keyboard, makes it “fair to say they might be pushing people into enterprise use,” noting that the “no-compromise solution” could spur adoption. He also mentioned BYOD pressures, stating that the new tablets’ respective design elements are intriguing but that relative to the famously intuitive iPad, learning curves might be a problem.
Rotman Epps said that “the companies might not be showing their cards all at once,” stating that trade show product announcements have grown stale thanks to the standalone events that Apple, Amazon, and others have used to launch and hype new offerings. With Apple’s rumored iPad Mini on the horizon and Microsoft’s Surface soon to be put through its paces, it will only become more difficult for products to differentiate themselves. It remains to be seen if lessons learned from past failures will give Dell and HP’s respective products the compelling features to compete.