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HP to take one more stab at consumer tablets

Taps former Nokia exec to head new fondleslab division

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If you thought HP's decision to spin off its webOS division into a new subsidiary signaled the end of its adventures in the mobile market, think again. According to reports, the PC maker is reshuffling its Personal Systems Group to launch a new business unit aimed at getting HP back in the tablet race.

According to a leaked memo obtained by The Verge, the new division will go by the characteristically imaginative name Mobility Global Business Unit (GBU). The memo is signed "Todd," who presumably is Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP's Personal Systems Group.

"Our new Mobility Global Business Unit initially will focus on consumer tablets and will expand to additional segments and categories where we believe we can offer differentiated value to our customers," Bradley writes.

To head up the new unit, HP has tapped former Nokia exec Alberto Torres as senior vice president. Torres left Nokia during a company-wide restructuring in February, when he was said to have stepped down "to pursue other interests outside the company."

Previously, Torres ran the Finnish phone firm's ill-fated MeeGo operations, which got the axe when new CEO Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec, decided to refocus Nokia's efforts on Windows Phone.

Much like webOS, MeeGo is a Linux-based mobile OS that never achieved much success in the mainstream market. Whether HP's new tablets will run either of those operating systems, however, seems doubtful.

HP brought a webOS-based tablet to market once – just once – then pulled the plug on the project mere weeks later. It's unlikely to try again, even though it retains control of webOS through its Gram subsidiary.

Some kind of ARM-based device seems likely, however. MeeGo runs on both ARM and Intel chips, so even with a former Nokia exec's involvement, it's not entirely a given that HP's new tablets will be ARM-based. But the fact that the memo references "consumer" tablets may be a clue.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday, David Schmoock, head of North American operations for Lenovo, repeatedly characterized Microsoft's ARM-based Windows RT as a "consumer" OS, saying, it will "play in consumer and retail at very aggressive price points."

If HP is following that messaging, then it seems likely that its new tablets will indeed be ARM-based, and that they will join what looks to soon be a very crowded market for inexpensive Windows RT–based devices.

According to Schmook, tablets running full Windows 8 will be priced considerably higher than their Windows RT cousins, which would seem to exclude them from the broad consumer market.

Then again, HP may feel otherwise. So far, Microsoft has only publicly announced Asus, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung as Windows RT OEM partners. HP has not been mentioned, although rumors abound.

According to the leaked memo, "Alberto's first order of business will be to accelerate our tablet strategy and begin to execute products against our consumer/SMB target. The exact structure of his team will follow that strategy."

That structure, and hopefully more of HP's plans, will start to be revealed once Torres assumes his new position at HP on September 3. ®

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