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February 21, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 5:08pm

Can HP use the Windows 10 OS to reinvent mobile as the new PC?

C-level briefing: HP's Mobility head explains how the company is betting big on the new Microsoft OS.

By Alexander Sword

Every week new research comes out saying how much more of our online activity takes place on mobile devices and less and less on desktop.

This has led to predictions of the death of the PC as sales of desktops and laptops decline.

According to HP Inc, however, our use of PCs isn’t declining at all, it’s just changing. To put it another way, PCs aren’t going anywhere, we’re just using a different type of PC.

This is the message that the veteran tech giant is putting out as it launches its new smartphone, explicitly targeted at the enterprise.

"If you think about the use-cases where work is happening today, less and less is happening around the centre of the CPU being in the notebook or desktop," says Michael Park, vice president and general manager of Mobility, HP. "The CPU needs to be with you all the time.

"I think the PC market is in a secular decline in terms of the form factors. Desktop utilisation is going down as people are becoming more mobile. Notebooks are still doing well but the element of compute that is not even considered in all those numbers is mobile devices."

The message from Dell World in Autumn 2015 was that the PC was not going anywhere. Does this new release, the Elite x3, mean that HP thinks PCs are on the way out?

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Park argues that he disagrees with the current tendency to segregate the markets in this way.

"People tend to cut PCs one way and then look at mobility separately. My point of view, perhaps different to the market’s, is that they all have CPUs, they all have memory, they all run apps and they do things.

"So why is everybody trying to put silos on this stuff? What we need to think about is how the work of the individuals in corporate going to change and how do we optimise these end-points to make sure they are doing the jobs that people need them to do?"

In essence, HP’s Elite x3 smartphone attempts to re-imagine the mobile device as a portable CPU. The user carries the smartphone around and simply plugs into whichever setup is available, whether this be a desktop or laptop environment.

Most smartphones come with some accessories and paraphernalia, but with HP’s new device they are essential.

The USB-capable docking station can be connected to the monitor, keyboard and mouse at a desk. The phone is inserted into this setup and the user starts working on it. When on the move, the user can connect the phone to the myrmidon notebook, which is wirelessly capable and has no CPU or motherboard.

HP has no plans to win over the bring your own device (BYOD) market, and Park says that this will remain down to the decisions of individual companies.

"There’s a BYOD and CYOD market and they’re going to persist for a while; I don’t think it’s one versus the other. It’s totally dependent on the IT policies of the company.

"There are some big companies that are fairly young in the tech world that have really grown up within the BYOD world. I don’t think that’s going to be an addressable market for this product."

The fact that the new HP device will be issued to employees as part of a corporate-owned, personally enabled (COPE) model means that the need to win over employees with a consumer-style experience. Park argues that style is always down to the preference of each individual and HP won’t be able to design a device that will suit everybody.

"We had to be good enough targeting the executives and productivity workers that the thing didn’t look like it was a product designed in Eastern Europe in 1970. It has to look decent and carry an executive presence. We tried to focus on that design element across the whole ecosystem of the accessories.

"It’s more design for giving preference and options for the way people are going to consume."

HP didn’t feel that with such an approach that they could scale to a Samsung-like model in the consumer market, says Park, or that they could actually compete with Apple on the consumer app side of what they’ve created.

The aim was to address a common complaint in the commercial market, where Park says HP "continually hears that there is a pain that is not being met in respect to how the next generation of mobility is going to change the computing need."

Park suggests that BlackBerry customers could be a target, as companies may want to integrate their existing Windows infrastructure with their mobile devices.

"The big bet we’re making is that the apps haven’t transitioned yet [to Windows 10]. As the apps transition the corporate IT departments are going to have to make a choice: do they create a completely separate development organisation that writes iOS and Android apps and supports them on the ongoing future and supports the integration of them into the back-end?

"Or do they go to Windows and drive a platform where if they write something once they can flex it to any device, including PCs, and everything is already pre-connected into their back-office?"

HP’s action represents a huge show of faith in the Windows 10 operating system, through which Microsoft wants to create a world of seamless connectivity.

This is the first OS to render for all devices from the same kernel, and Park claims that the industry hasn’t realised the true implications of this step. It means that the same applications can run across all the different major platforms, including desktop, tablet, mobile and emerging technologies such as augmented reality.

There are some obvious limitations to the mobile phone-as-PC vision. The main one is the processing power.

However, there have been some useful developments in this area recently. The Qualcomm 820 mobile chip, which will power several premium devices in the next year or so, will for the first time rival the processing power of the PC while using half of the battery power.

Park is sure that the interest in such processing power will emerge on the consumer side as well.

Whether or when HP and Microsoft’s vision will take off more widely is unclear. John O’Reilly, Sales Director for Personal Systems at HP Inc, says that we shouldn’t necessarily expect an equivalent of this device for iOS or Android, as it is so dependent on the functions of Windows 10.

Companies such as Samsung are moving towards further convergence; for example, Samsung has taken steps into creating a unified experience by allowing people to share their files between devices.

However, outside of the Windows 10 system there don’t seem to be any signs of other device companies taking the mobile-as-PC route.

If it is as productive as HP suggests, however, they may do.

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