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Smart Phone, Dumb Idea

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Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) is jealous. So is Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) . Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) , too. All of them are aching to lure consumers away from the iPhone.

But HP's envy is new. Typically a supplier to businesses, the computer maker now wants to sell its iPaq smartphones in retail stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. Europe will be first to see the new devices.

Can the plan work? I'm skeptical. For HP to succeed in selling smartphones to consumers, it will have to do one of two things:

  1. Create incentives for consumers to go 100% HP with PCs, printers, and add-ons like phones, similar to the pitch the company makes to corporate America but tailored to the interests of Joe and Jane Oddlot.
  2. Create far-out features that have yet to appear on the iPhone or BlackBerry.

The fist idea is a good one in theory because it resonates with businesses. Trouble is, consumer PC users have for years been trained to buy the best of breed. A Dell laptop here, an HP printer there.

The second idea is dangerous. People like Swiss Army knives because they're a novelty. Otherwise, we're into function -- products that do what we want them to do, and do it easily. Smartphones have broad applications, sure, but there's a point at which consumers will prefer the specialty device. Like a remote control for a TV.

Can you imagine? A smartphone remote? Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI  ) could build that. So could TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) . But just because you can build something doesn't mean that you should.

Take Play-Doh. Yeah, it's cool, till you're the parent watching a gaggle of hyperactive five-year-olds who want nothing more than to make a spaghetti salad out of the stuff. Everything's fine for 15 minutes. But then Junior decides the spaghetti salad would make some seriously awesome dreadlocks, which leads to a visit to the barber and a very public screaming fit.

Thanks, Hasbro (NYSE: HAS  ) . Thanks a lot.

So be warned, HP. There's room in the fast-growing consumer smartphone market for additional vendors. Offer us something new, something different. But whatever it is, please be sure it isn't electronic Play-Doh.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Nokia at the time of publication. He also hunts for the best of tech as a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers team. Here's how to try this market-beating service free for 30 days. Get access to all of Tim's Foolish writings here.

Nintendo and Hasbro are Stock Advisor selections. Dell is an Inside Value pick. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy finds it ironic that, without a user, a smartphone isn't any smarter than a spaghetti salad made of Play-Doh.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (1)

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  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2008, at 10:47 PM, ikikiftangftang wrote:

    yep. dumb idea. HP can't coordinate pc's and printers -- they are managed as separate entities and hate each other. So adding a mobile phone to the mix? c'mon.... with hurd at the wheel they can't coordinate carpeting at galactic headquarters.

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