Charl Snyman talks about HP's latest customer ranges

Interview: How HP is shaping the future

PCR caught up with the vice president and general manager for HP’s Personal Systems Group, Charl Snyman, at CES to talk about design and the future of the consumer technology market.

Although HP didn’t actually have a booth at this year’s International CES, the vendor nonetheless had quite a presence.

Two of its latest products – the EliteBook Revolve and the Spectre XT TouchSmart ultrabook – were briefly shown at events and one of them could be checked out at Intel’s booth. Both these devices succeeded in impressing the crowds with a combination of slick design and solid specs.

These were, in fact, the latest in a wave of new design-led devices that HP has released over the last six months. Although the headlines have focused on the drama surrounding HP’s acquisition of Autonomy, the company has been quietly pushing ahead with a total overhaul of its PC design and production process.

“The launch of Windows 8 was near the end of last year, so a lot of our biggest announcements were in the last quarter of last year because we wanted to get everything out for Christmas,” apologises Charl Snyman, the vice president and general manager for HP’s Personal Systems Group (known as PSG), when PCR caught up with him at International CES.

He continues: “We’re unveiling two products today, one touch and one non-touch. They’ll be in the range of everyday computing, which gives you a very stylish design, very thin with all the technology you need for a very affordable price.

“That’s what we call a SleekBook, and we’ve got an AMD version and an Intel version.”

These new devices fit in to a category that’s the result of a very tightly controlled planning process on HP’s behalf.

“After 2012, we first re-looked at our customer segmentation and redirected our branding compared to the customer segmentation we’re targeting,” he explains. “We needed to look at the products and ask ourselves ‘why are we doing this? What are we aiming to achieve?’”

To do that, HP divided its customer ranges in to four categories:

– Compaq – This is well designed, good enough technology at a very, very affordable price.
– Pavillion – ‘Everyday computing’. More stylish design, better tech inside and middling price points.
– Envy – The creative and entertainment range. Beats audio as standard, distinctive design, brushed aluminium.
– Spectre – the highest end devices. Aimed at what HPs marketing team call ‘savvy fashionistas’ or what Snyman terms ‘the guys who need to have the best’.
The Spectre line is typified, says Snyman, by the Spectre One: “If you get a chance to see that, it’s the most beautiful computer. I really think it hits Apple for six and I honestly think it’s the best designed all-in-one on the market today.”

Design seems to be something that’s close to HP’s heart. Last year, the company’s CEO Meg Whitman spoke of the need to build up a design language – something that made HP’s products instantly recognisable to the customer. “When you cover the badge on the front of a Bentley, you can still point to it and say ‘That’s a Bentley’. That’s the effect we aim to achieve,” says Snyman.

To illustrate this, he brings up the Envy X2, which was launched in the UK just before Christmas, as an example of the design language in action. This particular device is a hybrid laptop and tablet and shows the design hallmarks that HP is cultivating, such as brushed aluminium casing.

“I think design is becoming much more important, at a level where there’s a trade-off between technology and design. At a basic level, how much more can you do with basic functionality? You always need a processor, some memory, some storage; these days people care more about battery life, design and weight,” he continues.

“Before now, you had two big sub-suppliers – what we called Wintel – shaping the industry, but the PC has reached a wider audience than ever before. These people don’t ask what engine you have in your car and they’re not asking what processor you have in your laptop.

“Personally I think that really challenges the way the industry has worked for the last 20 years. Design is a universal language and that’s good for the industry.”

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