HP chief says COVID blurred lines between consumer and worker

HP had one of the most expansive laptop launches at this year’s CES. The headlines included two Elite Dragonfly models, a full set of Windows 11 Elitebooks, and a dump of gaming laptops and desktops (plus accessories). We’ve seen the usual spec upgrades: better chips, smaller bezels, better battery life, bigger touchpads, etc.

But a few of the newer features were introduced by HP releases and by those of many other major laptop manufacturers as well. Less cluttered and elegant appearance. Chips are heavier in structure that are thinner, lighter and easier to move from one place to another. AI features meant to prevent snooping in public places. Best Conferencing Technology – The lines that have resisted adding webcams for years finally have them. These changes are not limited to business. We’re seeing these trends in consumer lines, gaming lines, workstation lines, and even Chromebooks.

It’s clear what the market research for these companies shows: People want to work on the go more than ever, and their definition of “work” is expanding.

This is definitely what HP found. “People work differently,” said Alex Chu, head of personal systems at HP. the edge. “People will produce more. They will have fun and play differently. They will communicate with other people differently.”

Here’s the Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, a device previously unimaginable in business.
Photo: HP

It’s hard to think that remote work has spread worldwide since early 2020. But there is certainly some question as to whether this explosion will lead to temporary trends or long-term changes in the laptop business. According to this CES, the market appears to be happening: Consumers expect that conferences and work on the go are here to stay.

HP found that “75 percent of people now say they want to create a permanent home office,” says Chu. Meanwhile, “80 percent of conference rooms in the office are being upgraded, because you realize ‘I’m now going to work from home on a permanent basis, and when I get back to the office, I need that desk farther away’ more about collaboration.” ”

New requirements go beyond webcam quality. COVID-19 has pushed large numbers of people in some countries (including the US) from full-time jobs to self-employment. This means that the demand for devices that can act as workstations and personal drives – workstation power in a compact and attractive chassis – is higher than ever.

“We’re seeing a lot of people have more personal gigs,” Chu says. “They make a lot on their devices. They do a lot of custom work.”

While many of the biggest “innovative” laptops of the past few years looked more like a gaming laptop than the XPS 13, last year saw quite a few ultraportables (Acer’s Swift 3X, for example) that tried to bridge the gap. . We expect to see more of these in 2022; Zhou hinted that HP is prioritizing better screen technology this year to target this market.

Gaming is also a rapidly growing segment, which has accelerated the pace of the epidemic. “Not only is it a lot of people, but there are new segments,” Chu says. HP found that 60 percent of new players, for example, are female. But play, for many of these new users, is more of a social affair than it used to be — the isolation that COVID-19 has imposed on many people has made some of the play as a source of virtual interaction.

“Players play because they want to connect,” Chu says. “People go online…at set times—“Hey, why don’t we all be there at 8pm?” “We see it in multi-age demographics.”

Not only does this mean that more people want laptops that can play; This also means that gamers are looking for better keyboards, webcams, and other peripherals that were previously a greater focus in the consumer laptop space. There is more demand for gaming laptops that can work as well, and personal laptops that can play as well.

Dell XPS 13 Plus is seen from above on a blue plush chair.  The screen shows a blue and white background and the time is 4:50.

The Dell XPS 13 Plus is another consumer model that has undergone bold changes to target a wider audience.
Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Three models of ThinkPad Z13 closed stacked on top of each other on a retina table.  Black on top, gray on the bottom, leather on the bottom.

With the ThinkPad Z-Series, Lenovo is trying to push the ThinkPad line into a hybrid-focused audience.
Photography by Becca Versace/The Verge

Much of the marketing of personal technology (including laptops) refers to a “mixed world”, the “era of remote work” and the like. These terms are used to describe the American workforce that, according to recent estimates, consists of less than 50 percent of telecommuters or hybrid workers. While many people have permanently changed their lifestyles and are upgrading their home offices, there is still a large sector that needs (or wants) to work in person. Do companies like HP expect to split their products between those segments or focus on products that accommodate both?

Chu did not directly answer this question. “There are needs that converge because you want a consistent type of expertise, but there are needs that are distinct in each of the areas we keep innovating for,” he said. pointed out. But the broader point — that the needs of the business, consumer, gaming and creative laptop spaces are converging and will likely lead to more laptops connecting these categories — is well taken.

This comes with all kinds of questions. First, business, gaming, and workstation laptops are much more expensive than consumer laptops of comparable quality. There is certainly a question as to whether the needs of these customers encroaching on the consumer domain could make the category as a whole less accessible. (HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, for example, which is positioned as one of these work and play devices, is expected to start at $999, which isn’t cheap at all for a Chromebook.)

Many flatlines have also made major compromises to keyboard and touchpad quality this year in the name of thinness and portability — compromises that have been made, at least in part, in favor of on-the-go use cases. That may be the sacrifice a new generation of workers are willing to make, but the MacBooks of the past decade certainly beg to differ.

Then there’s the security issue — using the same work laptop you use for stand-alone gigs, gaming, or the like, is something IT departments have been begging people not to do since the dawn of time. You could potentially jeopardize your privacy (IT can see everything you do there, after all) and your company information (what if you accidentally copy and paste the wrong thing?).

These are likely bridges we’ll cross far away – laptop production is often a multi-year cycle, and while some features can be added or tweaked as you go, the market may take some time to see any drastic reimagining of the laptop’s role in the workplace. But within the next five years, Chu hopes the perfect laptop will be one that “goes with ease.” It will recognize “You use this device for work, but you just don’t work — you’re checking an email, you’re shopping.” This certainly appears to be the case for many people. I just hope this is a feature of today’s market, and not a bug.



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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo

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