This week, the first Ultrabook for business was launched by HP - called the HP Folio - and it is an impressive piece of work. Ultrabooks are Intel's and Microsoft's initial response to tablets. They provide full laptop functionality with a carry weight and battery life in range of a tablet and a price similar to a fully equipped iPad and keyboard. While these products as a class are desirable, they have generally focused on consumer buyers and didn't have the features that IT typically specifies.
Now, typically a business product costs more than a similar consumer offering, but this HP product not only seems to qualify as business product, but it comes in at a price point that is aggressive in the consumer class. I think HP is showcasing its ability to buy in higher volume and get steeper discounts, but let's explore this product this week.
If you start by saying these look a lot, as a class, like the MacBook Air, you'd be right. Based on some recent numbers I saw the other day, the MacBook Air now represents about 30 percent of Apple's notebook sales and its percentage is climbing. Initially, the MacBook Air was a crippled product that throttled its processor down to 50 percent power to avoid overheating, but, over time, and by working with Intel, Apple was able to get a product that worked at full power and today's MacBook Air is an impressive offering.
When faced with the reality that neither Intel nor Microsoft would have a competitive product in market against the incredibly popular iPad, the concept of an Ultrabook was created. This concept was based on the belief that most people who use a tablet for work are really using it as a light laptop with long battery life; a theory supported by the relatively high attach rate of keyboards to iPads when used for things like email.
But since iPads were coming in on a user-driven wave called the "consumerization of IT," most OEMs positioned their offerings against consumers, which is consistent with the belief that we have a user-driven product adoption cycle. However, most laptops are still purchased by companies, suggesting another path might actually be more successful - one that blends the consumer desire for an Ultrabook with the IT requirements so businesses would more readily buy them. From this, the HP Folio was born, and it is interesting to note that the similar name "Foleo" was originally on a Palm product that was targeted at the same segment, but never shipped.
The standard crop of Ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air, is often defined by compromises, like fewer or smaller ports, in order to meet an aggressive design criteria that emphasizes having the thinnest product. The HP Folio varies here; it isn't the thinnest Ultrabook, but it has a full port out including a full-sized HDMI port and, unusual for this class, an Ethernet port. This is a 13.3-inch product - a more useful size than the 11.6-inch offerings that represent the smallest of this class right now.
Overall specs include an adequate Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD drive, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, memory card reader and audio port. It weighs in at 3.3 pounds or about a pound lighter than the old thin and light class of products this new class will likely replace. The price starts at around $900. There is a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) option for businesses that require this technology.
The HP Folio is arguably one of the most competitive products HP has ever brought to market. If you are a business, this may be your best option to provide something that both meets your requirements and the employees' newfound demands for something more advanced.
Wrapping Up: The New HP PSG (PC Division)?
This product was clearly in development during all of the drama surrounding HP this year and still it is an impressive result. I think it showcases that HP was able to execute even with the clouds hanging over the PC Division's future and execute at a high level. Now that those clouds have been removed, this product may represent a new, more aggressive division that is putting its focus back on leading the market. In any case, the HP Folio is a solid product that is focused on a segment that HP has always held dear - the business buyer - and, for those buyers, this likely is a good thing.
In the end, though, I think most Ultrabooks are trying too hard to be like Apple and are losing their identities in the process. The HP Folio screams "HP" and that should be a more sustainable strategy if HP wants to retain and, I think it does, defend against Apple incursions.