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HP trains its sights on mobile systems, thin clients

Posted: 21 Jul 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:personal computing  flexible displays  Palm's WebOS 

Phil McKinney, chief technology officer, HP personal computing group shares the road map for flexible displays, Palm's WebOS as an industry platform and more in an exclusive interview with EE Times.

According to him, the computer industry has more surprises in store—including new categories of mobile and even desktop products.

In a keynote at the Mobilebeat 2010 conference in San Francisco, McKinney said there will be a range of products on a line between smartphones and notebooks such as e-books, tablets and netbooks. We asked him if there is anything else coming up on that line.

"I think there is—I've always been interested in what I call strong specifics, devices that do one function very well like a digital checkbook," said McKinney.

Each year or so McKinney hosts an internal brainstorming session where members of his team develop product concepts and prototypes. Four years ago the digital checkbook was one of them. "You have to build stuff to help people understand how the products could work in people's lives," he said.

Smartphone maker Palm, acquired by HP, will be one likely source of any such new mobile products in HP's future.

"Think of Palm as the centre of innovation for HP's global mobile business," he said. "Palm owns the mobile platforms [for HP and] we've taken a good sized chuck of engineers in HP working on phones and those kinds of devices and moved them into Palm," he added.

Netbook engineers stay with the Wintel-focused PC group based in Houston. "Palm is kind of the non-x86 platforms [group for] the ARM-based devices," he said.

Palm uses Texas Instruments OMAP and Qualcomm Snapdragon processors today. But the group is agnostic about processors and could even—hypothetically—port its WebOS to Intel's Atom if it wants, McKinney said.

The HP CTO sees client computing being for awhile "in a mixed mode where part of life is in the cloud" and part is in devices with local storage and apps. That will result in a need for a mix of Wintel and ARM/Linux systems, he suggested.

"We're already one of the largest ARM users in the world with our printers," he noted.

The thinnest of thin clients

The ARM incursion will not be limited to mobile devices. HP Labs is researching alternative server microprocessors, and the client group is on the cusp of launching new desktop PCs for the third world that McKinney described as "the thinnest of thin clients," systems that may not use an x86 or Windows.

McKinney notes that three-quarters of the world population has never owned a PC, many due to marginal literacy. So HP is developing a touch-screen system based on gestures and icons that can help users get to entertainment, education and education services—even if they don't know anything more than how to dial a phone.

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