HP Heeds an Apple Lesson of the Day

Mac maker Apple (NAS: AAPL) has been schooling its rivals in more ways than one. It would seem that PC competitor Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) is heeding this Apple lesson of the day: Design matters. A lot.

Straight from the horse's mouth
Don't just take my words for it -- ask HP CEO Meg Whitman. "Apple taught us that design really matters," she told TheWall Street Journal. "I think we've made a lot of progress." Whitman recalls how when she became CEO late last year, she was issued a company laptop that she affectionately refers to as "a brick" because it was so bulky and heavy.

Even HP's executive chairman, Ray Lane is a Mac user, which doesn't speak much for his confidence in HP's own products. He was photographed using his MacBook Air in a Reuters profile last year.

Source: Reuters. Ray Lane using his computer at home in November 2011.

Source: Reuters. Ray Lane using his computer at home in November 2011.

Rest assured, Whitman wants to change these masonry connotations and is committed to taking design seriously in HP's turnaround. HP remains the world's top PC manufacturer by volume, and Whitman wants to defend the company's position as king of the PC hill, even as Asian players such as Lenovo and Acer continue to eat away at the market share of domestic players such as itself and Dell (NAS: DELL) .

She concedes that HP has lost its way in some respects: "I don't think we kept up with the innovation. The whole market has moved to something that is more beautiful."

Let's get this turnaround started
Included in a massive multiyear restructuring plan announced in May, HP has dramatically increased the resources it is putting into design and R&D in the hopes of spurring innovation within the iconic PC giant. Whitman is hoping its renewed focus on design coupled with Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) Windows 8, set for release next month, will reinvigorate lackluster PC sales.

HP recently appointed Stacy Wolff as its director of notebook design within the PC business, largely responsible for industrial design and "packaging engineering." He has helped unify the company's notebook lineup with standardized features and characteristics, although some of the products unveiled on his watch bear uncanny resemblances to Apple products, such as the Spectre XT Ultrabook unveiled in May.

Sources: HP and Apple. HP Spectre XT (top) vs. Apple MacBook Air (bottom).

Sources: HP and Apple. HP Spectre XT (top) vs. Apple MacBook Air (bottom).

Wolff's team has also reduced the number of pieces that comprise a laptop's primary chassis, transitioning to a single piece of metal or plastic, not unlike Apple's "unibody" approach. Perhaps "not unlike" is being generous; maybe "exactly like" is a more appropriate description.

To boldly go where no Mac has gone before (or ever will)
However, there is one key differentiator that HP can offer to set itself apart from Apple: hybrid convertible devices. Dell is similarly pursuing such devices.

That's an area where Apple has already decided it won't go, believing the inherent tradeoffs in those devices are detrimental to the overall user experience. It is conceivable to consider that Apple might be -- gasp! -- wrong here at telling users what they want, because the idea of a unified device that does it all is arguably very compelling for some users, if only the device could be designed and executed properly from both a hardware and software standpoint.

Source: HP.

Source: HP.

Microsoft is making a big bet that Apple's post-PC rhetoric is wrong, focusing on its PC-Plus strategy whereby a single Windows 8 device could offer both a traditional desktop interface for a laptop mode as well as a touch-optimized interface for tablet use. For example, HP just unveiled a lineup of hybrid devices last month, including the HP Envy x2, a hybrid notebook/tablet that counts as one of HP's first Windows 8 devices.

They may still look like Apple knock-offs from a design perspective, but they definitely do something MacBooks and iPads can't and never will.

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The article HP Heeds an Apple Lesson of the Day originally appeared on Fool.com.

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