Historically, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) has been one of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) most important hardware partners -- a key ally driving the creation of the Windows ecosystem. Even today, it's the second-largest seller of Windows-powered PCs in the world.
But, in just the last year, Hewlett-Packard's strategy has clearly shifted. CEO Meg Whitman labeled Microsoft a competitor late last year, and in recent months, has made good on that declaration, aggressively supporting Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) alternative operating systems at the expense of Microsoft's Windows.
Hewlett-Packard's next machine, which could be released later this month, continues to demonstrate its newly found animosity toward Microsoft.
Hewlett-Packard's radical new laptop
Earlier this week, various press outlets noted that Hewlett-Packard had put up a video on its website showcasing the Slatebook 14 -- a revolutionary new laptop unlike anything Hewlett-Packard has ever released before. In fact, nothing quite like the Slatebook 14 has ever been released by any company.
The Slatebook 14 is a standard, 14-inch laptop, complete with non-detachable keyboard, trackpad, and various ports. But unlike the other 14-inch laptops Hewlett-Packard sells, this one doesn't run Microsoft's Windows but rather Google's Android operating system.
Many companies, including Hewlett-Packard, have released Android-powered convertibles -- 10-inch Android tablets that connect to keyboard docks, offering a level of laptop-like functionality. But the Slatebook 14 differs from those quite drastically being that it offers the traditional laptop form-factor.
When it officially debuts, the Slatebook 14 will be Hewlett-Packard's second attempt at bringing Google's mobile operating system to the world of traditional PCs: last year, the company rolled out the Slate 21, an all-in-one Android-powered desktop. Hewlett-Packard hasn't provided specific sales figures, but it must've been at least somewhat successful, as Hewlett-Packard released a second generation of the Slate 21 (the Slate 21 Pro) earlier this year.
Can Android conqueror the desktop?
Most analysts agree that the growing popularity of mobile devices, most of which are powered by Google's Android, has had a negative effect on the demand for traditional PCs. Still, there are many computing tasks (generally work-related) that benefit from the use of a traditional desktop or laptop PC. Microsoft may lose some marginal sales to tablets and smartphones, but it still has the traditional PC market on lockdown for the foreseeable future.
That appears to be the case for now, but devices like the Slatebook 14 call that conclusion into question. With the support of Hewlett-Packard and others, Google's Android operating system could eventually break into the traditional PC market, further reducing the demand for Microsoft's operating system. Of course, there's reason to doubt the Slatebook 14's success. Android, by design, is meant for touch input -- without a system of windows and a unified taskbar, power users could find it difficult, or impossible, to accomplish much on an Android-powered laptop. Nevertheless, it's a dangerous trend that Microsoft shareholders should be aware of.
Last year, analysts at research firm Gartner predicted that, by 2017, Google's Android will have more or less obliterated Microsoft's Windows platform. If devices like Hewlett-Packard's Slatebook 14 catch on, that future could easily become a reality.