Simple ain’t easy: Why HP’s laptop catalog is still overflowing

HP Envy Sleekbook

It all looks so easy when Apple does it: Five different laptops, a sprinkling of options dusted on top, and customers lining up to pay top dollar. This “we’ll make your choices for you” approach has won Apple an increasing share of the computing world in recent years, so why doesn’t everyone follow suit? Besides the potential complications of putting all your eggs in one basket, the world’s largest PC maker doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of excluding customers — if it wants to keep that title, anyway. At a company as massive as HP, taking a red pen to the product catalog gets complicated, even though execs acknowledge it needs to happen.

At HP’s Global Influencer Summit in Shanghai, HP’s head of consumer notebooks, David Frost, explained why the company’s lineup is still packed with different model numbers — and what it’s doing to whittle that down.

A delicate balancing act

HP Pavilion dv3510nr Blue Label laptop, a Best Buy exclusive in 2008Behind the scenes, it’s not as simple as simply imagining a product and building it. “It’s a challenge, you’ve got kind of opposing forces,” Frost says of the pressures the team faces. HP’s only goal is accommodating customers of all different needs at different price levels, but it’s not the only player in the game. To get its notebooks to those consumers, it relies on stores, which often come with their own demands. “You have the retailers, who are like ‘Oh yea, I don’t want mine to look like his.’” Hence the plague of one-off models sometimes available at major retailers like Best Buy. Remember the “Blue Label?”

On the other end of the equation, builders are also constricted in what they offer by vendors like Intel and AMD, which supply the parts. After all, HP can’t just conjure computers out of nothing — everyone is working with the same basic ingredients.

The diversity of buyers across the globe presents a whole other challenge. “There are very big geographic differences,” Frost explains “In America, nobody wants discrete graphics. In China, demand is very, very high.” Even among buyers who want discrete graphics, there’s no go-to solution. “In some markets, half the market’s Nvidia, half the market’s ATI. What do you do? You choose one, that’s OK, but you could argue you’re not meeting the other half of the market.” Display sizes present the same problem. Research shows that 14-inch notebooks rule in China, while Americans and Europeans prefer 15.6-inch notebooks.

New types of products represent new opportunities, but they’re also threats to the old way of doing things. “Now we have Ultrabooks,” Frost explains, “So am I killing products that have optical drives? When you bring in something new like that, you might kill something else.” Apple may be content leaving legacy technologies in the dust before the world has moved on, but HP’s large contingent of business customers makes this more complicated. It’s hard to kill VGA connectors, for instance, when most of the projectors in board rooms across the world still use them.

Change is on the way

Add all these options up, and its little wonder HP buyers have to navigate a maze of names including Envy, Folio, Mini, three different series of Pavilions, and ProBooks. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the ordering page, but HP does intend to simplify things over time.

“Quite frankly, we want as few choices as we can for our customers, to give them the best experience,” Frost says. “We try to make the HP brand promise: I’m going to make the right choices for you. There are different brands and different segments, but I’m going to make the right choices for you and you’re going to get a good experience.”

PR speak? Maybe, and clearly the company has a ways to go before reaching the zen of simplicity. But its execs seem to acknowledge the problem. “We have work to do to better articulate some of our positioning,” admits James Mouton, senior vice president of HP’s personal computer business group.

As any good editor knows, cutting the fluff is never easy. But it’s always worth the effort.

Cars

Fisker failed. But now the EV pioneer is ready for an epic redo

Henrik Fisker has already had a career most executives can only dream about. He designed the BMZ Z8, a couple of Aston Martins, and his own Fisker Karma. But he’s got a plan to disrupt the auto industry, forged by lessons learned over the…
Computing

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX330UA -- will get the job done without digging too deep into your pockets.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Computing

These laptop makers produce the most reliable, quality hardware today

If you want to buy your next laptop based around a specific brand, it helps to know which the best brands of laptops are. This list will give you a good grounding in the most reliable, quality laptop manufacturers today.
Computing

Don't use streaming apps? These are the best free players for your local music

Rather than using music streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Computing

Style up your MacBook Air with one of these great cases or sleeves

Whether you’re looking for added protection or a stylish flourish, you’re in the right place for the best MacBook Air cases. We have form-hugging cases, luxurious covers and padded sleeves priced from $7 to $130. Happy shopping!
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Computing

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.
Gaming

Want to gift a Steam game so you can play with a friend? Here's how to do it

The holidays may have passed, but it's always a good time to give the gift of gaming (especially when there's a Steam sale)! Here's our quick guide on how to give a Steam game as a gift.
Computing

Multi-monitor issues? Here's how to resolve them

If you're running into multi-monitor problems, you're not alone. Two screens are very useful, but they can present some difficulties. Here are some common multi-monitor problems and how to fix them.
Computing

Capture screenshots with print screen and a few alternative methods

Capturing a screenshot of your desktop is easier than you might think, but it's the kind of thing you'll probably need to know. Here's how to perform the important function in just a few, easy steps.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Deals

The best MacBook deals for November 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…