We’ve seen things go up and down, things being said, things being done (and not done) in 2009. And by the end of it all, I have some thoughts to share about how HP should change/improve/maintain in 2010.
Starting with the most basic of portable computers, the netbook, HP’s been doing a good job equipping the Mini netbooks with spacious keyboards and matte screens. In a world of virtually “cloned” specifications sheets in the netbook world, I think the use of matte screens is a good way of differentiation. After all, not everyone (or, no one?) enjoys the headaches and frustration of looking at a glossy display with a bright light source behind them, yes? The matte display is something HP should definitely maintain or, if they’re ever so tempted to reintroduce glossy displays, leave as an option.
HP Pavilion (Consumer notebooks)
The ultra-portable end of the Pavilion range (consumer notebooks) has been pretty much the main focus, it seems, this year while I feel HP is neglecting their larger Pavilion offerings (14 inch notebooks and up). Seems that HP is “waiting” for Intel to come up with their new Core i3 Mobile and Core i5 Mobile processors before replacing the higher end “Pavilion dv” series with “Pavilion dm” monikers, which is fine. But processors aren’t everything, and people would like to see more improvements. A friend of mine who was recently shopping for a new notebook to replace her aging Dell initially considered HP but finally went with Asus, because the Pavilion dv4 had “only” a Nvidia G105M (while the Asus she bought at the same price had a higher end GT200-series card). Not the first time I heard of such a situation, and I bet it ain’t the last if the situation doesn’t change.
The Nvidia GT230M graphics card in the dv6/dv7/dv8 notebooks are ‘average’ at best and I’ve seen much better in the similarly sized notebooks from competitors. Oh, and before I forget, HP has too much Nvidia love here. They should give buyers a choice of Nvidia OR ATI graphics. And what a better time to offer ATI graphics options when ATI itself is rising up (above Nvidia, yes, in some aspects) with their new 4XXX and 5XXX series graphics cards.
Other features that “would be nice” for consumers to have include options for backlit keyboards (plenty of manufacturers have ’em), more shiney, glossy “touch” controls above the keyboard (this isn’t something I love, but I think is a must in a world of consumers being attracted to bling and everything touch related). From here out, notebooks are just gonna get thinner, just like how the skinny Kate Moss and “ultra-thin” runway models were once a fad. I think HP might incorporate a slot-loading optical drive into the Pavilion dm4 (if it has an optical drive, that is) to make it slimmer when it comes out to succeed the current Pavilion dv4. Not too sure about the durability/reliability of slot-loading drivers, however, as they can be a pain (both in terms of cost and effort in opening up the entire machine) to replace if they should fail.
On the gloomier side, HP’s consumer notebooks have almost never had good touchpads – slippery, not really precise and occasionally unresponsive. Being an ex-HP business notebook user and currently an owner of a HP consumer notebook, plus having tried all sorts of notebooks (HP or not) from friends and such, I’d take a “plain Jane” single touch, non-glossy/glassy touchpad anytime. And with the advent of gimmicks such as multitouch trackpads (a gimmick IMO, see why), I bet we’re gonna see the touchpad experience on consumer notebooks get even worse. I’m not a big fan of using my dv4 outside my room thanks to its glossy screen (which is why I have my netbook for going out). I can’t see this changing though (see my statement above about bling and gimmicks), and I think we’ll continue to see glossy-screen equipped consumer-level notebooks (Regardless of brand) for quite a while until consumers themselves become self-aware (of why only their television sets had shiney displays initially, and not notebooks).
HP Pavilion HDX and HP Envy (Premium consumer notebooks)
By the looks of it now, the HP Pavilion HDX line is unofficially dead, or dormant, depending on how you look at things. Despite the Envy notebooks taking over as HP’s “luxury” AKA upper-tier consumer notebook series, I think HP could offer the “HDX” moniker as a separate line or upgrade to existing Pavilion notebooks. Of course, the Pavilion HDX series would have to be seated below the Envy line, but who said the changes had to be drastic? The Pavilion HDX series could simply be souped-up versions of their Pavilion counterparts. Kinda like how BMW-Mini offers both standard Mini Coopers and “S” variants (Mini Cooper S) to those who want more than the standard model, but aren’t willing to step up to, say BMW’s 3 series or 5 series sedans, or a fictional Rolls-Royce Mini perhaps. See where this is going? HP could create Pavilion HDX notebooks that look a whole lot like their traditional Pavilion counterparts (maybe with a different lid/keyboard deck design for class differentiation purposes), but with “HD” related upgrades – say a full HD 1080p display, built-in TV tuner and media remote, more dedicated media controls on the notebook itself and even a “HD” webcam isn’t out of the question. So these Pavilion HDX notebooks would satisfy the needs of consumers who ‘want more’, while not bringing adverse effects or cannibalization of the Envy line.
The Envy line, on the other hand, has already quickly defined itself as HP’s “Elite” consumer notebook (or if you’re some Apple freak, HP’s Macbook Pro wannabe). I think the Envy line is an interesting concept as it brings the design and price of the “PC” to points where only “Mac” computers were associated with in the past, while offering better value (note that price and value are two really different things) than their Mac cousins – as seen with the HP Envy 15 which beats any current Macbook Pro to the punch with its full HD display, option for dual SSD drives, Core i7 Mobile processor and a whopping (by portable standards) four DDR3 RAM slots.
The Envy line could only get broader with the intro of a premium ultra-portable Envy 11 and super-sized Envy 17 that you can still actually carry along because of its thin profile (because I’ve seen people carry around their 17 inch Macbook Pro to Starbucks before!). Same concept and styling as the existing Envy 13/15, different sizes. It just works. However, having heard news of an Envy 14 in the works for five months now, I can’t help but question the viability of introducing a 14 inch model. 11 and 17 inches, sure, but a 14 inch model? With the existing Envy 13 and Envy 15 notebooks around and a very small price gap between the two, I wonder how HP is going to position the Envy 14, price and feature wise. It’s likely the Envy 14 will be a mashup of the two existing models – giving people the power of Core i7 and above average ATI graphics in a slightly smaller form factor, 1600 x 900 display and no irritating left-hand-side shortcut keys on the keyboard. Or it could be something completely different. Either way, HP still has a lot of thinking to do in terms of how to price the Envy 14 (with most situations I’ve thought of leading to slashing the current Envy 13’s price tag)
Voodoo PC (Dedicated gaming notebooks)
I have a big fat feeling that 2010 is going to be an interesting year for PC gaming. Not because I recently fell in love with Metal Gear Solid 4 that I played on a friend’s Playstation 3 and I now want to see a PC version, and Konami is bringing their next installment, Metal Gear Solid: Rising to PC. Okay, fine, that’s one of the reasons to be excited for PC gaming (many more titles that were originally “console only” have sequels that are being brought to PC, HURRAH FOR THE WORLD!!). But in terms of the hardware side of PC gaming, a recent blog post by HP’s CTO of Gaming, Rahul Sood, has given me even more reason to believe (read the last line in his 2nd paragraph, that’s a big hint Rahul is dropping) that Voodoo PC will make a comeback in 2010 with a spankin’ new bunch/pair of dedicated gaming notebooks.
While I’m sure desktop gaming isn’t going anywhere, with the introduction of big n’ powerful ATI graphics cards, the impending announcement of Intel’s six-core Core i9 processor, liquid-cooling, upgradeability and such, the mobile gaming market is a fast growing sector. No, I don’t mean PSP Go and iPOD Touch “mobile gaming”… I mean mobile gaming using notebook computers. Not everyone can afford a top-of-the-line, Core i7 packing, Tri-SLI wielding, 10,000 RPM hard disk burning gaming rig. And even if they could, there are some people who just don’t want to drag their massive, expensive rig in the back of their truck every time a friend organizes a LAN party.
I could turn this section alone into an article of its own (which I will, once I recharge my writing and idea juice jar after writing this piece)… but to put it in simple terms for now, gaming notebooks – there’s a market for them. Granted that the Envy 15 is a powerful notebook and that I have friends who indulge in what I call “business notebook gaming” (using business notebooks for gaming, shocking!), there’s no better replacement or alternative to a REAL gaming notebook than… well, a gaming notebook. Look at what Alienware is doing, what Asus is planing (a rumor about their next high end consumer notebook recently cropped up online) and how even Toshiba is marketing their Qosmio notebooks. There’s something going on out there, and it’s very apparent HP wants to be part of it and they have the perfect, established brand under their belt to do it – the Voodoo PC gaming division.
Little is known at the moment about the comeback of Voodoo gaming computers. But whatever they plan to bring next year to the table, I have a gut feeling it’s gonna be exciting. And hopefully they would have figured out a plan to produce and sell such machines to the world by then (remember the time Voodoo’s products were “North America only”?)
Big things happening as CES 2010 is around the corner. Who knows what we’ll see then? I’ve always seen great potential in HP and have had a good experience with their notebooks (no major issues so far, having tried and tested plenty of their models via various channels). Now all they need to do is convert ideas into actual products and get execution of their plans right (please?!)