HP said it will begin selling smartphones again, starting first with a pair of phablets in India. That HP is going to sell the two devices--the 6-inch Slate6 VoiceTab and the 7-inch Slate7 VoiceTab--in India first is notable considering a recent report that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is struggling in the Indian market, and as a result is preparing to rerelease its 8 GB iPhone 4 in the country.
HP's 6-inch Slate6 VoiceTab
HP has made no real secret of its plans to eventually return to the smartphone market. HP CEO Meg Whitman said in 2012 that the company "ultimately has to offer a smartphone." And last year reports surfaced that HP was building an Android tablet and possibly a smartphone as well.
In an interview today with Re/code, HP's Ron Coughlin, VP for its consumer PC business, explained that the company chose to release its smartphones first in India because he said the company's products tested well there and because it believes it can successfully sell the devices straight to end users, without worrying about obtaining subsidies from wireless carriers.
Moreover, HP's devices--which both sport massive screens--tap into the growing demand for so-called phablets, devices that straddle the line between smartphones and tablets. "The key for growth in this market, as with most emerging markets, is a low-priced phone equipped with a large screen and dual SIM slots," said IDC analyst Kiranjeet Kaur in a report last year. (HP's devices both support 3G networks and dual-SIM options. HP has not released pricing information for the gadgets.)
But perhaps HP's main reasoning centers on the acceleration of the Indian smartphone market: IDC predicts the country in 2017 will surpass the United States to become the world's second-largest smartphone market, behind China.
In his interview with Re/code, Coughlin hinted that HP could take its smartphones to other markets beyond India, though he declined to provide details.
"We have nothing to announce at this time relative to plans in the U.S. market," an HP spokesperson said in response to questions from FierceWireless. "HP will expand to additional mobility categories, form factors or markets where we believe we can offer differentiated value to our customers."
That HP selected India is interesting in light of a report from the Economic Times that Apple is preparing to revive its aging 8 GB iPhone 4 specifically for the Indian market. The report said Apple is facing a significant sales slowdown in the country, and is planning to use the less-expensive iPhone 4 to appease cost-conscious Indians.
According to IDC, smartphones costing less than $200 commanded fully two-thirds of the Indian smartphone market in the second quarter--a situation that likely puts pressure on high-end smartphone vendors like Apple.
HP famously purchased Palm in 2010 with an eye toward selling phones and tablets running the company's webOS operating system. However, under former HP CEO Léo Apotheker, the company shuttered its smartphone business shortly after buying Palm for $1.2 billion.
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