Can the iPAQ get its mojo back?

commentary Here's a quick quiz: name three smartphones that put mobile e-mail atop their roster of features.We're betting that your list included the BlackBerry at least once if not twice -- citing the conventional 8700 series and the more consumer-friendly 8800 Pearl, Palm's Treo, the Samsung BlackJack and/or Motorola Q.

commentary Here's a quick quiz: name three smartphones that put mobile e-mail atop their roster of features.

We're betting that your list included the BlackBerry at least once if not twice -- citing the conventional 8700 series and the more consumer-friendly 8800 Pearl, Palm's Treo, the Samsung BlackJack and/or Motorola Q.

There's an equally good chance that HP's iPAQ didn't rate a nod despite the brand having defined the potential "BlackBerry killer" category with the introduction of one of the first mobile e-mail handhelds -- the hw6500 Mobile Messenger series -- in mid-2005.

This exercise simply proves how much has changed in the past 18 months. HP has gone from straddling the twin mountaintops of brand and tech leadership to becoming just another player in the mobile device landscape.

"It is unfortunate that we have lost some share," said Chin Hong Cheng, Vice President of HP's Consumer Products and Mobile Business Group for the Asia-Pacific region, "but we are putting together a very strong strategy to regain our leadership."

Speaking with ZDNet Australia during the launch of HP's new desktops and laptops in South Korea last week, Cheng admitted that the market's greatest profit and potential was "not so much in the pen-based segment, the growth is in the 'messenger' and converged device space."

Cheng said that the company's strategy would revolve around "more than devices, it includes mobile device management, with a focus more on the commercial and business side and not on the consumer low-end phone devices."

That push was behind HP's acquisition of mobile device management specialist Bitfone in late December last year. Bitfone provides software for over-the-air updating of smartphones and other Net-enabled mobile devices, and was a neat fit into HP's existing suite of management tools for servers, desktops and notebooks.

"Mobile device management is one of the key horizontal solutions that enterprise customers are asking us to help them with," said Chua Hwee Koon, director of product marketing for notebooks and handhelds with HP's regional Mobile Business Unit.

"We did a very intensive study across the APAC region and worldwide, and spoke to customers in key countries including Australia. Customers are telling us that the whole area of mobile device management is just too complicated and that rather than just hardware they need an end-to-end solution."

Hardware not the whole solution
While HP is likely to deliver new products in its iPAQ Mobile Messenger line before mid-year, Chua is adamant that the company won't rely on the hardware alone to make the running.

"Competing on just hardware specifications is not going to be a long term strategy for success, as it's getting very crowded in the hardware devices landscape. Today the market could be all about the thinnest PDA, tomorrow it could be the cheapest, the next day the one with the most features," Chua said.

"What we have to offer is more than even hardware integration. It has to be to give the customers a better experience, and move away from whether this is the cheapest device or the thinnest device. The three key areas we will focus on for enterprise are ease of use, manageability and security."

Chua said that while HP "will not vacate the pen-based PDA space altogether, the market is shifting to the converged space so we will continue to develop products that focus on the push e-mail and (other online) applications because those have been very successful around the world."

David Flynn travelled to Seoul as a guest of HP.

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