Hewlett-Packard (HP) may not be etched on the minds of consumers who are thinking of companies with must-have tablets or smartphones. But Salim Ziade hopes to change that view.
As general manager of HP's personal systems group for the Middle East, Mr Ziade has witnessed a surge in interest for devices connected to the internet, and says one of the company's biggest challenges is figuring out "how do we transform ourselves"?
In an interview with The National, Mr Ziade talks about how HP will go head-to-head against Apple's tablet computer and how the company plans to compete in the regional consumer electronics market.
The challenges are huge, considering that sales of notebooks and accessories alone are projected to generate revenue of more than Dh6.61 billion (US$1.8bn) in the UAE this year, according to the market research provider Business Monitor International.
HP's first major consumer tablet in years will hit the stores this summer before it is rolled out in the Middle East. Yet Apple and Samsung have already released their second models. Do you feel you're late to the game?
Are we the first to the market? No. If there's one thing I've learnt over the years at HP it's that in this industry, if you're not the first to the market, don't come with a "me too" product. Bring real innovation. That's what we're doing. I've seen it. You will like it.
What's one unique selling point with your tablet?
Touch-to-share. You have an HP phone and [the tablet] together, and when you touch them you can automatically send the web page you're on, or the information you have on the phone [to the tablet].
After the tablet craze, what do you predict will be the next big innovation in consumer electronics?
My prediction is not about one product in particular. The next big thing is … what some say is the consumer cloud. What you want is a seamless way of having all your relevant information at your fingertips. All major vendors, including HP, are working very hard to create that environment that will allow multiple devices to coexist. The day we have this, you will see an exponential explosion of devices.
It's interesting you're saying this so soon after the Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, announced iCloud. Is HP just following in Apple's footsteps?
What I know is - being [among] all the top companies in our industry, from HP to Apple, from Amazon to Google to Microsoft - those trends are not secret, are they? You know them. I know them. The consumer is expecting this to happen. All of us have embraced that trend, and all of us are launching or have launched innovative products to meet consumer needs. We're still at the early stages.
When will the victor emerge?
My prediction is within the next one to three years we will see which solutions will be the winners. Definitely, everybody is trying to win this battle, but it's too early to tell who will do it. Am I confident HP will be [the winner]? Absolutely.
Looking back at past products, what has been the biggest mistake that HP has learnt from?
I'm not going to talk about mistakes. I'm going to talk more about different trends. At the end of the day, we're in an extremely fast-moving industry, and the biggest mistake of all would be not to recognise a trend and not do the right investment. Something that happened in the past is called the netbook. When it was launched, HP took [up to 18 months] to launch its own netbook. We did not launch that trend. We were late. The most important thing we did was to work harder, catch up and today we are number one in the netbook [market].
But are netbooks the way of the future?
The interesting part of the netbook is it was a very important form factor … a stepping stone. When the netbook came, a lot of analysts thought it would be replacing laptops. The reality: most people use netbooks to complement an existing computer. It's not a replacement device, and it opened the door to the industry for [other devices]. It's the same with tablets. Tablets are not replacing laptops or computers. They're a second device. Today you might have one, two or three devices connected on the internet. We will definitely have four, five or six devices for everyone [in the future].
How is HP trying to design products consumers will want - and not what they wanted months ago?
We're not trying to play catch-up. I gave netbooks as an example of how you have to stay in tune with consumers. When HP launched something called the personalised campaign, at that time, we invested a lot in the design of the product and getting the PC out of the commodity space. What we're seeing is that trend that started [about] 2005 has accelerated. We're talking about the PC moving from a tool to something personal. Today, when you buy your HP PC, or any one of our competitors' smartphones or tablets, there's an emotional link to it. What we are doing today is absolutely embracing that trend.
Share an example of how HP is doing this.
Take audio. Music is music, fine. [But some] people want different qualities of music. We have the only computer that has four speakers on the laptop. The quality of the sound is unparalleled. The results speak for themselves.