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HP Imagine: A Glimpse Into How Hybrid Work Is Reshaping PC Markets

HP Imagine A Glimpse Into How Hybrid Work Is Reshaping PC Markets

The News: I just returned from the inaugural HP Imagine event, a showcase of HP’s latest products and services across Personal Systems, Printing Systems, and Workforce Solutions, and have a few thoughts and insights to share about what I experienced there, especially as it relates to key elements of HP’s product strategy, market positioning, and growth trajectory.

This update is timely for two reasons. First, the PC market shows signs of accelerating recovery from its recent pandemic-related slump. Second, new hybrid work paradigms continue to drive the evolution of new categories of productivity solutions.

Included in this coverage are thoughts about the newly released Spectre Fold 3-in-one laptop and Envy Move all-in-one desktop, as well as some nods to Poly’s Voyager Free 60+ UC earbuds and Voyager Surround 85 over-the-ear headsets. Read the HP Imagine press release here.

HP Imagine: A Glimpse at How Hybrid Work Is Reshaping PC Markets

Analyst Take: Before I begin, let’s take a small step back in time. If you have been following our tech earnings coverage this past year, you may have noticed a recurring theme, particularly when it comes to device OEMs (handsets, PCs, printers, IoT, etc.): a lingering slump in demand, in great part a reaction to many successive preceding quarters of higher-than-average purchasing. To accommodate newly home-based workers after the pandemic started in early 2020, companies and consumers bought a lot more laptops and other hardware than usual. And then, uncertainty around access to hardware during subsequent supply chain disruptions, combined with historically low interest rates and a short-lived hiring boom, conspired to extend that purchasing trend into 2021, essentially disrupting the normal order of hardware purchasing cycles and inventory lifecycles. Then the next domino fell: bloated inventories resulted in a slowdown in demand, and hardware OEMs such as HP, Dell, and others saw their PC sales soften, then plummet. Fast forward to today: My view on where we are is that the worst of the disruption is behind us. Looking at major OEMs’ quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) sales numbers, what I see is a slow but steady return to “normal” as companies burn through their inventory bloat and technology users once again look to upgrade their PCs and other devices.

What is becoming increasingly clear to me, however, is that too much has changed since 2020 for the PC market to go back to the way it was. Here is why: hybrid work is here to stay. On-device AI is the next competitive feature set frontier. All-day (and multi-day) battery life and anywhere-connectivity are going to become standard across all PCs. We have entered a new era of work (or work-life, even), a new era of computing, and a new era of AI-enhanced features. And so, although everyone’s main question around earnings was, “When will the slump finally be over?” (my most risk-free guess is sometime in the middle of 2024), I think the real question we should be asking is this one: which hardware OEMs made the most of their time during the demand slump?

Another way to ask that question is, “Which hardware OEMs hunkered down and battened the hatches during the last 18 to 24 months, and which hardware OEMs used that time to retool for the new era of AI-enhanced work-life productivity to come out swinging?” Well, what I saw at HP Imagine gave me the strongest indication yet that HP’s product teams understood the assignment and used their time extremely well.

Don’t get me wrong: there is no “pivot” here, no reinvention, no real sea change. HP has been on this track for some time now. But something has definitely shifted, like a spine falling into proper alignment or the parts of a well-tuned engine finding their sync. It is hard to quantify something like this, but the vibe at HP is noticeably different than it was before the pandemic. There is a new quality to the energy that permeates the campus―and yes, those kinds of intangibles matter. They signal something, and it would be foolish to dismiss that kind of insight without exploring it a little first.

So here’s where I am after a few days of reflection: as solid as HP already was before the pandemic began, at some point during all of the ensuing global reshuffling, something shifted within HP. Predictably, there must have been reflection about what kind of company it needed (and wanted) to be (in the new era of hybrid work, how HP solutions and the experiences they could create could fit into the lives of technology users and bring new layers of value, and of course how the venerable company could remain relevant, competitive, and on a growth trajectory once the dust settled. But what I sensed last week was the result of a whole different set of questions that business unit and product teams must have been asking a lot in the last few years, bolder questions that are more commonly found in startups and younger companies than inside industry incumbents. Questions may have run along the lines of: What are we not doing but should be doing? How can we think about this differently? How do we come out of this storm better equipped to innovate and lead than we were before it? How can we use this time to build the next decade or two of innovation and leadership?

Finding a sense of purpose can be contagious, especially in corporate environments. Being on a mission, feeling like you are part of a movement, is a lot more motivating and energizing than chasing quarterly targets and working on yearly iterative improvements to existing product lines. No matter how good your products are, no matter how well your company is doing, routine can grind down the most curious, innovative, and creative minds and hold companies back. Success is not a driver of invention. Friction is. And so HP, it seems, has responded to the last 3 years of friction refreshingly well and seems extremely well positioned to emerge from these turbulent years better equipped to not only thrive in the coming world but simply better equipped to shape the future of productivity for consumers and the enterprise alike.

Poly’s Underappreciated Potential for Enterprise/Consumer Product Crossovers

As a result of all this, HP seems zeroed-in on tech’s ongoing embrace of a new era of flexibility, itself driven by a need to make work cultures healthier and more fluid for everyone. That need is not only for the sake of productivity, but also as a foundation for longevity, creativity, and empowerment―not to mention the need to prioritize human values as work cultures reinvent themselves for the age of hybrid work and AI. By the way, this is already noticeable across Poly’s latest generation of collaboration products, some of which, like the Voyager Free 60+ UC earbuds and the Voyager Surround 85 UC over-the-ear headset, now have surprising enterprise-to-consumer crossover potential.

There is an old adage in photography circles: the best camera is the one you have with you. This idea applies to hybrid work: the best laptop, tablet, webcam, or set of noise-canceling headphones is the one you have with you. For workers who commute to offices every day, the equipment they use at work and the equipment they use at home or on the road doesn’t have to intersect a whole lot. But for technology users who work from home, or who go back and forth between home and the office, or who split their time among airports, hotels, coffee shops, home offices, corporate offices, and poolside patios (one can dream), productivity tools have to bridge the gap between work and lifestyle needs. Nobody working that fluidly wants to carry around two laptops, two tablets, and two sets of headphones and webcams for business versus personal use. Hybrid and work-from-home (WFH) workers have to be able to consolidate their hardware and in my view, it makes more sense for enterprise tools to be more consumer-friendly than to try and push consumer products to perform as well as enterprise products. If the best laptop, tablet, pair of headphones, or webcam is the one you have with you, then enterprise products need somehow to become more consumer-friendly.

Poly’s work on incorporating high-end consumer features and consumer market designs into some of its productivity products (such as the headphones I referenced above), is a perfect example of that built-for-hybrid work-life philosophy in action. The Voyager Free 60+ UC earbuds, for example, have become my go-to earbuds. I’ve stopped carrying anything else. Not only are they solid and practical for on-the-go Zoom and Teams meetings even in noisy surroundings, they are also the most comfortable earbuds I’ve worn in years. The noise cancellation is as outstanding as is the bass; they are workout friendly; and the charging case’s built-in Bluetooth makes it a breeze to connect to commercial airlines’ entertainment systems. Beyond the added layers of performance and thoughtfully practical features, they’re actually… cool. That is an example of the X factor when it comes to making IT products work in a market that targets hybrid work use cases. Enterprise tech must be cool. And recently, HP has tapped into exactly that: Finding new design and user experience (UX) on-ramps to make its next gen products and solutions also look and feel… well, cool.

HP Targets Flex-Conscious Apex Hybrid Workers with Its Premium-Priced Spectre Fold Transformer-Like Workstation

HP’s new 3-in-one Spectre Fold is another example of this enterprise-to-consumer design philosophy, albeit on a much more sophisticated level. Along similar lines as the $3,500 Asus Zenbook 17 Fold, the Spectre Fold is whatever you need it to be: a tablet, a laptop, another laptop, yet another laptop, a portable desktop, a standalone screen, a reader… (effectively making it more than just a 3-in-1, but I digress). Picture a 17” foldable tablet paired with a removable BT keyboard and stylus (the HP MPP 2.0 Tilt Pen): In one configuration, the tablet can function as a 17” standalone touchscreen (held up by its integrated low-profile kickstand), with the keyboard and stylus positioned anywhere you need them to be, assuming you need to use them at all. In an additional three adjacent configurations, the screen can be folded and set on its side to act as a laptop, with the keyboard either completely covering the base screen, sitting back a little for an expanded screen experience, or sitting completely off the base screen to allow the user full access to every inch of available screen.

Fully deployed into its tablet form, the 17” tablet is the width of a number 2 pencil (or an iPhone 15 Pro). Powered by a 1.1 GHz Intel Core i7-1250U CPU, a split six-cell, 94-watt-hour battery, and Windows 11, and featuring 16 GB of LPDDR5X memory, 1 TB of storage, two USB-C ports, and its foldable 17-inch 1,920×2,560 60 Hz 188 ppi screen (12.3-inch 1,920×1,255 in laptop mode), the Fold weighs in at 3 lbs. (or 3.6 lbs. with the keyboard). Is the Spectre Fold for everyone? Perhaps not, especially not at its current price of $5,000. But the point here is that it exists. For someone who truly needs such a high degree of flexibility, portability, and freedom in a single device, and has the budget to match, HP built a device―and now both HP and Asus are working to build out this new category.

HP’s All-In-One HP Envy Move: Reinventing Desktop PCs for Budget-Conscious WFH Users and Their Multi-Use Spaces

Another heavily showcased product at HP Imagine was the new Envy Move – a 9 lb. 23.8” family-friendly, multi-use hybrid Windows 11 desktop PC/TV designed to move around a house or apartment as many times per day as needed. You can work on it, play on it, watch movies on it… you can take it into the kitchen, the living room, the outdoor patio (preferably shaded as the screen tops out at 300 nits)… set it on the kitchen table, coffee table or the floor… and it looks at home everywhere.

The 21.74” x 5.85” x 14.43” Envy Move features a 23.8 diagonal, QHD (2560 x 1440) anti-glare, low blue-light touchscreen; an Intel Core i3-1315U (up to 4.5 GHz, 10 MB L3 cache, 6 cores, 8 threads) processor (with a 10 MB L3 cache, 6 cores, 8 threads, and 8 GB onboard); 256 GB of storage (expandable to 1 TB); 1 USB-A and 1 USB-C ports; 1 HDMI-in 1.4b video connector port; Realtek RTL8852BE Wi-Fi 6 (2×2) and Bluetooth 5.3 wireless card; 5 B&O speakers with adaptive spatial sound; an HP wide-vision camera with privacy shutter; an HP 720 white touchpad, integrated Bluetooth keyboard, a rechargeable battery, its own magnetic handle, and cleverly designed spring-loaded feet.

I already know where HP should focus its efforts for the Envy Move’s next generation, especially if demand justifies a slightly more premium version, but these specs are a very good start, especially given its $899 introductory price-point target. (I have hardware and UX wish lists ready, just in case.)

Design-wise, it looks good in the home, almost like an extension of the decor. (It doesn’t look like “tech” or a computer or a flat-screen TV.) It has its own distinctive identity and design language. This is not a device you necessarily want to take on a plane or to the local coffee shop, but it is a clever, useful big-screen form factor for WFH use cases that involve multi-use family areas, that can go from home office to dinner table to homework station and back to office space every day. I love both the concept and the execution (I want one), but what I love most is that HP built it in the first place. The concept itself is clever, timely, and innovative. It reflects HP’s commitment to exploring new design and use-case trajectories of our emerging hybrid work-life reality with, again, an eye toward making IT products work, look, and feel more like they belong in the home, not just the office (or an office in the home).

Why Having Its Finger Squarely on the Pulse of Evolving Work-Life Cultures is HP’s Real X-Factor Right Now

This exploration of new designs and use cases has opened an opportunity for HP to create entirely new product categories and markets for its technologies. The flip side of that opportunity brings risk, because HP is essentially paving the way for new hybrid product categories. Perhaps not enough consumers will need 3-in-1 laptops and all-in-one home desktop PCs. Maybe these kinds of innovative products are condemned to receive innovation and design awards while ultimately failing to find enough users fast enough to make these products commercially successful right away. Still, my hunch is that with the right amount of marketing behind them, these products will find their niches, and in time find their paths to scale.

The Spectre Fold’s first generation might, for example, cater mostly to well-funded early adopters and extreme power users of hybrid work tech. My expectation is that a good portion of the appeal right now is that showing up anywhere with it – the office, a meeting, an airport lounge – is going to be a flex, a bit of a brag or a status symbol. Forget about whatever the meeting or the conversation was supposed to be about. Everyone is just going to want to know what the Fold is, and what it can do. People will want to look at it, touch it, play with it, marvel at it. But as time goes by, many of its features will likely trickle down into more affordably priced versions, and the category will start to scale.

The Envy Move, for its part, could find success in India, Asia, and Europe ahead of North America. Why? In part, markets in which apartment living and sharing space with relatives is more common than it is across large swaths of the US could result in faster adoption of that particular use case.

In other words, analysts and industry observers should be careful not to misinterpret slow or limited adoption at scale as any kind of setback. Building new product categories, especially in already saturated markets with limited consumer bandwidth for new product releases, can take time. HP’s targeted niche-first approach to these designs and price points is also deliberately scale-averse for the first round. But with the right marketing strategy, both products could impress consumers and hybrid workers as much as they have impressed me right out of the gate and become an instant commercial success. It really could go either way. If nothing else, HP gave itself new options to grow in new markets. That is a very good thing, especially as workspaces continue to evolve into something more hybrid, fluid, and personal.

The broader point I am trying to make is that HP is asking all of the right questions: How do people really think about the relationship they want to have with technology in the age of hybrid work? How can technology move with them better in their daily lives? How can technology fit more elegantly into their spaces? How can technology adapt without friction to consumers’ specific interpretation of a healthy hybrid work-life? Summarized: how can an evolution of technology solutions, product design, and services both meet and enable the parallel ongoing emergence of hybrid work-life? HP’s innovation clearly reflects this approach, which is very different from just sticking to making their existing product lines a little better than they were a year earlier, and a little better than they were a year before that. Looking through the superficial fog of year-over-year slumps in PC demand and slow quarter-over-quarter recovery indicators, this is the thread that catches my eye: conspicuous curiosity, clearer cultural insights, the courage to challenge internal assumptions, the discipline to treat disruption more as opportunity than challenge, and the kinds of fresh currents of innovation that both drive clear market differentiation and elevate brand value. Not all device OEMs check all of those boxes for me right now, but HP does.

Note that I have not even touched on HP’s approach to AI, managed services, the future of printing, or even HP’s innovative sustainability initiatives. Those four areas were also front-and-center at the HP Imagine event and deserve their own coverage, so I will circle back soon to address them as well. In the meantime, give some thought to the observations I shared today. HP is onto something, and from what I can see, its proactive alignment with the full spectrum of changes driven by new hybrid work-life paradigms is uniformly positive.

To be continued.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other Insights from The Futurum Group:

HP Q3 2023 Earnings Show Accelerating Signs of Improvement

HP Inc Q3 2023 Earnings

HP Poly Voyager Free 60+ Review: Wireless Earbuds Are Your Friend

Image Credit: HP

Author Information

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.

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