HP Tiptoes Forward in Smartphones

HP is shipping its second business-focused smartphone, which it describes as “texting-friendly,” but industry watchers aren’t entirely convinced the mobile device will make much of a dent in today’s competitive marketplace.

The $499 unlocked 3G HP iPAQ 912 Series Business Messenger, which features GPS and HP’s Enterprise Mobility Suite of applications on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, offers what HP claims are needed interoperability and productivity options. It is HP’s second smartphone offering in the past 18 months.

“This isn’t a $20 phone but one targeted to the business user and road warriors who heavily use e-mail and text,” a HP spokesperson told InternetNews.com, noting the devices full Qwerty keyboard.

“It [the smartphone industry] is still a new area for us, but we believe enterprises are looking for a device that can handle heavy business applications with ease,” the spokesperson said..

One thing is sure: HP will have plenty of competition. One recent research report claims at least 100 new handsets will be in the market by year’s end, and Motorola’s portfolio of new devices alone will hit 50 if product expectations are met.

Just last month Nokia (NYSE: NOK) rolled out three new smartphones. Samsung has debuted several high-end devices this year including the Soul, F480, and the M800. Several weeks earlier, Palm debuted the Treo Pro and Treo 800w on the heels (and in the shadow, some would argue) of Apple’s 3G iPhone launch.

A recent IDC report stated device makers shipped 306 million units (all mobile devices including smart phones) during the second quarter of this year — up 5.6 percent from last quarter and a 15.3 percent increase from the second quarter of 2007.

Given the wave of devices and vendor noise HP will have to tap some its considerable resources and marketing muscle if it hopes to get any traction with its smartphone initiative.

“They’ve been in the market for several years, though very few people know it,” said Jack Gold, analyst, J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com.

One reason is HP’s strategy of selling direct to businesses and through Amazon, rather through traditional market channels or by partnering with a wireless carrier.

HP’s first smartphone, the iPAQ 500 series Voice Messenger, debuted in early 2007 and offered Voice over Internet Protocol capabilities and e-mail on the Windows Mobile 6 OS.

“I don’t think that HP can be much of a market mover in the smart phone market as there is just too much competition,” said Gold, adding that while HP’s brand recognition is good its Windows devices have not been all that well received.

“I am skeptical as to how much of a market they can make with this device,” Gold said.

According to HP, the new Messenger offers tri-band UMTS/HSDPA connectivity and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE wireless technology which lets users quickly access the Internet worldwide on a wide variety of networks. It also features a 3-megapixel camera.

But those aspects are nothing new when compared to competing devices from Palm, Apple or Research in Motion’s BlackBerry.

“That’s the segment where users are and they like those smartphones,” Jeff Kagan, a telecom analyst, told InternetNews.com. “We will have to wait and see how successful HP is with their strategy,” he said.

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