HP is one of the more interesting companies I cover. This fact was brought home to me this month when I attended their Power of Print event in California. There are PC companies, and there are Printing companies, but there is only one PC/Print company. In addition, there are 3D printing companies and more traditional printing companies, but only one Print company doing 3D printing, and they are both the same company HP. HP wasn’t built on purpose; it was the result of Meg Whitman taking the parts of old HP and splitting off the things she didn’t want, HPE was purpose-built, but HP was the cast-offs.
HP has been the most successful and currently is facing a hostile takeover orchestrated by Carl Icahn, suggesting he sees a value that others have missed (I think I know what that value is). But it struck me no one product defines the company. There is no single offering that blends printing with PCs that fully showcases what HP can do.
Let’s explore that this week.
The PC Printer Hybrid
Now I’d start with the concept of having a PC with a built-in Printer as the obvious choice but my first portable PC, the Panasonic Exec. Partner was a PC with a printer built-in. It weighed in at a whopping 28 pounds and one time I had to run from one end of the Dallas airport to the other trying to make a fight after having an operation and sheared my stitches in the process which was neither a pretty nor particularly pleasant experience so we won’t go there.
But you could put a print head in a mouse and then give it the option of being able to print on any surface that would take the ink. Say if you wanted to print right on a box you were shipping back to a vendor, rather than wasting paper on a label you’d then have to stick on, why not print directly on the box using the mouse? Or, if you are like me and your handwriting sucks and you want just to write a comment on a paper you are reviewing, you could type your comment into your laptop and use the mouse to print it on the document?
A lot of us like to use a mouse with our laptops when we travel and this would be a way to add print functionality to a laptop without trying to build in a printer.
Custom 3D Printed Laptop
One of HP’s strategic imperatives is to drive 3D printing into manufacturing. One of the advantages of this technology is being able to build custom products at scale. So what if HP created a laptop core that would take a 3D printed shell and allowed people at cost (because this is a technology showcase) to design a custom laptop case for it (this could also work for desktop PCs particularly in the gaming space).
They could work with Adobe to supply free access to an Adobe tool to create the case (and this would train people on the use of the Adobe tool allowing Adobe to provide offers to the folks using it). Besides, HP could have design contests where the winners (voted on by the users) received a cash prize and HP customers for a moderate upcharge could use the designer case if they’d rather do that. And, going beyond that HP could partner with a firm like Disney or Sony to create themed designs. I know I’d be interested in getting a laptop that had a Marvell Shield Theme myself.
Now, this would mostly be done with plastics but extremely popular designs could, for an upcharge, be done in metals as well and the result would broadly demonstrate the potential for these technologies which should open the door to other manufacturers who want to address the need for highly custom products.
Health Scanner + Medicine Printer
The technology I think Carl Icahn has his eye on in HP that few know about but might represent a Trillion Dollar opportunity is called Microfluidics. It comes out of their print division and it currently is used in labs all over the world to cut the cost of analyzing drugs. But this same technology could be used at scale to effectively print custom medications that could be adjusted each patent uniquely (none of us are “average). This solution could apply to combination drugs, which are currently getting a lot of bad press because pharmaceutical companies overcharge for them, chemotherapy, insulin, even pain killers, and anti-inflammatories. Initially most useful in remote areas where there is no Doctor or in Doctor’s offices, this could evolve to become common for every home with a hard encrypted lock to the hospital or doctor and tied to a PC specifically designed to monitor the patent using sensors to determine the time and exact dose needed before printing each pill or liquid. Some of us really don’t like shots (I don’t know what I’d do if I had to give myself one) so it could be tied to an auto-injector so that would be handled automatically as well.
This device would fundamentally change both the cost of medicine and much of the aggravation because it would remove, for a lot of folks, the need to go to a hospital or doctors’ office for some types of recurring treatment and the scanner could be used broadly for remote diagnosis.
Carl Icahn is after something he wants to buy cheap and sell for a huge profit at HP. That is why HP is arguing he is undervaluing the company while it appears he is overpaying based on current valuation. Icahn is no dummy and I think he sees the value in either HP’s 3D printing technology or their Microfluidics technology with my money going to Microfluidics since that would have the biggest potential payoff.
But I also think there is an opportunity for HP to create a product that defines the company one that connects PCs to printer technology and creates something either uniquely customizable or that addresses a problem that is in critical need of being addressed. It is only a matter of time before HP figures this out and Icahn is already in the hunt. I’m betting something amazing will result.