The Touchpad and HP's future in education

Buh-bye, Touchpad...and buh-bye to the perennial back-to-school pallets of HP hardware. Time to look elsewhere for tech refreshes, no matter how cheap HPs might be (or might become).

You know, it's too bad about the HP Touchpad. I know, I know, it's all about the iPads in education. They're sort of everywhere. But I've spent the last 2 weeks with HP's short-lived and now-defunct Touchpad and I have to say that, not only do I like it far better than I expected, but it could have found a real place with students and teachers. It's demise, though, along with the uncertain future of HP's PC business, begs the bigger question of what happens to a brand in education that gained huge market share with rock bottom prices and solid servers.

I've bought a lot of HPs over the years. I've bought them for myself, but more to the point, I've purchased, recommended, or authorized the purchase of hundreds of HP desktops, laptops, servers, thin clients, and Windows Multipoint solutions. Overall, especially on the server end of things, I've had no complaints, and haven't found anyone else able to compete across product lines on price. Acer may undercut on laptops, Dell might swing in a little under on server hardware, etc., but HP hardware and software licensing has been very aggressive. And what school CTO doesn't like cheap, reliable hardware?

Those same CTOs, however, generally don't like uncertainty. And despite HP PR reaching out to me to assure me that they will "continue to focus on HP PC products for the education market", if Hewlett Packard plans to spin off their PC business for a potential sale, then uncertainty is precisely what you have. Most schools and colleges have already made their summer purchases for fall rollouts and there are going to be more than a few pallets of HPs ready for deployment (or being deployed as we speak). Most likely, networks of resellers will continue support, regardless of what becomes of HP's PC division.

However, you can bet that a lot of future purchases will be going elsewhere. Dell is an obvious choice and Lenovo has stepped up its education game considerably. Apple, of course, remains clearly in the picture with its iPads and various laptop and desktop offerings and, with OS X Lion Server a mere $50 in the Apple App Store, is a compelling choice.

However, who can provide comprehensive end-to-end solutions (laptops, desktops, servers, thin clients, printers, etc.) besides Dell? There are many who would say that the cloud has obviated the need for such solutions and made on-premise servers irrelevant. Still others would say that hardware hardly matters in a Web and app world. Hardware, after all, is just hardware. Even I would argue that learning and collaboration platforms are more important than any given hardware solution.

And that may, in fact, be true. However, countless K12 and post-secondary institutions are still choosing to build infrastructure, rely on thin computing solutions, or require on-premise servers to meet specific security or performance needs. As the market stands now, only Dell can meet those needs with a single contact with any degree of likely longevity.

HP, it's clear, wants to become IBM, which has a very active role in education at the datacenter, data warehouse, data mining, and business intelligence/analytics markets. Will HP be able to penetrate this market effectively? And will it matter? There are solid, established solutions from SAS, IBM, and many others to meet these needs. And the need to give students and teachers access to a variety of learning platforms with actual hands-on devices? HP may still deliver, but I don't expect to see schools racing for HP equipment in the coming buying cycles. Unless, of course, HP starts selling its servers as cheaply as it did its remaining stock of Touchpads.

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