It's Too Late, HP

Hewlett-Packard is dreaming of smartphones. Ouch.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
Sep 18, 2012 at 12:00AM

It's never too late to begin the reinvention process, but Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) may be biting off more than it can chew this time. Speaking on Fox Business on Friday, HP CEO Meg Whitman revealed that the company is working on a smartphone.

"We have to ultimately offer a smartphone because in many countries of the world that is your first computing device," she said. "There will be countries around the world where people may never own a tablet, or a PC, or a desktop."

Whitman deserves props for getting it right, but correctly seeing the future doesn't guarantee that you will be a part of it.

Her comments aren't as incendiary as Nokia's (NYSE: NOK) "burning platform" remark last year, but she's getting warm. Besides, HP already burned investors when it forked over roughly $1 billion for Palm more than two years ago, only to eventually shut it down.

The market isn't always kind when it comes to second chances. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is throwing billions at Nokia to promote Lumia as the flagship Windows Phone handset, hoping that consumers forget about its short-lived Kin. However, even the mighty Microsoft is facing the daunting challenge that Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iOS present to anyone going this route.

The only silver lining here is that Android is available to HP as the world's mobile operating system of choice, just as it was able to champion Windows as the desktop operating system of choice. It will have to compete with Samsung, HTC, and every other hungry Asian smartphone maker out there, but there are already online reports of an HP-branded smartphone -- under the Bender code name -- running Android.

The problem is that you know it won't end there. HP will want to do more than any of the countless Android handsets in a cutthroat market. Maybe it does something stupid like follow Nokia into Microsoft's checkbook. Maybe it tries to breathe new life into webOS. Maybe it foolishly believes it can build off Android to create its own ecosystem.

All of those roads would lead to failure, but that's what happens when you're too late to take the right road.

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