Why HP’s New Windows Phone Is a Bad Idea

While everyone else has been coming to terms with the reality that Windows Phone is dead or dying, HP has been busy developing a brand-new Windows phone. As Harrison Weber reports for VentureBeat, the company unveiled its first Windows 10 smartphone, the Elite x3, at Mobile World Congress. The phone places a spotlight on Continuum, a catalog of virtualized apps, and two docks, one that would replace your desktop and another that’s designed to feel like a laptop. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t manage to be the “revolutionary mobile platform” that HP claims it is.

The Elite x3 features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, a 5.96-inch screen, a 4,150mAh battery, a microSD card slot, two SIM card slots, a 16MP rear camera, and an 8MP front camera. HP has not yet announced the device’s launch date, nor its price. The device’s central feature is Continuum, the Windows 10 software that makes smartphones work like PCs when plugged into a dock. Weber notes that while the idea behind Continuum is futuristic and enticing, the technology has yet to win over the masses, hindered as it is by Microsoft’s claim to only a tiny share of the smartphone market.

Weber notes that by embracing Continuum — and hastily unveiling the phone at MWC without a price and with an inexact launch date — HP “is aiming to get into the heads of enterprise executives and IT departments as quickly as possible.” But as Matt Burns reports for TechCrunch, the company is claiming that a device like the Elite x3 has never been done before, a claim that’s clearly wrong. Android and Motorola tested the concept with Atrix, Palm almost tried it with the Palm Folio, and numerous startups have failed in efforts to develop various solutions that would enable a user to run a desktop experience from a smartphone.

While the processor gives the Elite x3 enough power to plug into a monitor and power a desktop experience, the phone’s fatal flaw is that it runs Windows Phone, a platform that is quickly growing irrelevant. Recent data indicates that Windows Phone had just a 1.1% worldwide market share in the fourth quarter of 2015, down from 2.2% the year before. And even worse is the fact that Microsoft’s Windows Phone shipments dropped 57% year-over-year in the most recent quarter, with the company selling just 4.5 million Lumia devices as compared to 10.5 million the year before. “Essentially,” Burns explains, “HP built and announced its first modern smartphone on a platform that most indicators say is dying.”

As Chris Velazco reports for Engadget, the productivity angle of the Elite x3 is the phone’s “most puzzling” feature. “The Elite X3 is meant as a business-only machine,” Velazco notes, “sold in fleets to both tiny and corporate IT departments, and the lapdock (technically the ‘mobile extender’) is a way to turn a phone into a full-blown work machine.” He explains that after a brief hands-on demo with the phone, he walked away confused. “The notion of having productivity accessories orbiting around a smartphone sun is great and all (especially for small IT departments that would rather not have to deal with managing all those assets), but the fact of the matter is, Continuum sometimes doesn’t work reliably enough to make any of this feasible.”

Jacob Kasternakes reports for The Verge that Continuum is the kind of killer feature that could make someone choose a Windows phone over an iPhone, “at least, if HP and Microsoft can sell people on the dream.” Because Windows phones have largely failed to appeal to consumers, HP is doing everything it can to appeal to enterprise buyers, down to building in software for running apps from the cloud. The company is hoping that the Desk Dock and Mobile Extender, intended for desktop use and for a laptop replacement, respectively, will help convince people that they want a single device to handle all of their computing needs.

Unfortunately, even Microsoft seems ambivalent about the future of Windows 10 Mobile, and most users who are familiar with the Android ecosystem or the iOS App Store would be disappointed by a Windows Phone. For consumers who remain devoted Windows Phone fans, the Elite x3 could be an appealing choice until the rumored Microsoft Surface Phone arrives, particularly because it has the specifications to compete with all the high-end smartphones currently on the market.

But the only other group of users likely to look with any interest on the Elite x3 are corporate customers, likely those who already buy HP PCs and are looking for a way to simplify procurement. And, for what it’s worth, Peter Bright points out at Ars Technica that the Elite x3 will feature not only dual biometric authentication thanks to iris recognition and a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, but FIPS 140-2 cryptography, 256-bit key full disk encryption, TPM 2.0, and protection against firmware rollbacks.

Bright thinks that the Elite x3 is less a smartphone and more a device that could be “the successor to all manner of weird and wonderful industrial devices using the old Windows Mobile.” (Think handheld machines that integrate credit card readers, barcode scanners, printers, and often resistive touchscreens and hardware keyboards.) The Elite x3 could tap into that market thanks to its 5 Pogo pin contacts on the back, which will enable third parties to build sleeves that fit over the phone and give it “the extra capabilities it needs to meet all these industrial needs.”

That makes the Elite x3 a novel and potentially interesting solution for HP’s corporate customers. But is it a smartphone that’ll be worth the high-end price tag for the average consumer? Definitely not. It already seems that HP is planning on selling the phone primarily to its enterprise customers, so the device may or may not show up at your local Best Buy or carrier store. However, those who are interested will be able to purchase the device online, and perhaps at a local Microsoft store.

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