May 11

Riding the wave vs. following the wave

You can tell a lot about a company’s spirit by the way it handles innovation.

Some live to lead the way, others prefer the safety of “wait and see.”

When I was reading about how HP passed over Thunderbolt in its new PCs, it stirred an ancient memory on this topic.

I was working on behalf of Apple when iMovie came out. Apple, of course, invested heavily in iMovie, plastering its message all over TV. You’ll have to remember, the ability to make cool videos on your computer was brand-new then. There was no YouTube. Apple wanted to get people thinking about something they hadn’t been thinking about before.

About a year later, I was working in the world of Intel (before they hooked up with Apple). By this time, there were plenty of apps for making videos on a PC. Intel, interested in creating a new campaign for consumers, decided they should first ask consumers what they like to do on their computers. So they ran focus groups all around the country. They found that most people were browsing the Internet and doing email (duh), and that sharing photos was the third biggest thing. Way down near the bottom of the list was making videos.

Email and browsing were a little too boring even for Intel, so they chose to highlight photos in their ads. In other words, they chose to sell people on what they were already doing vs. opening their eyes to something new.

I thought this was pretty sad, considering their technology enabled all kinds of cool things. They could have ridden the wave, but instead they followed it.

So the other day I was reading this PC World interview with HP’s worldwide marketing manager for desktops, Xavier Lauwaert.

Asked why HP chose not to include the new high-speed Thunderbolt technology in its latest line of desktop PCs, Lauwaert said, “Haven’t found a value proposition in it yet.”

He went on to explain, “On the PC side, everybody seems to be content with the expansion of USB 3.0. Do we need to go into more fancy solutions? Not convinced yet.”

Now I do understand that the verdict is not yet in on Thunderbolt. It’s more HP’s language that I find disturbing. (Assuming that Lauwaert is authorized to speak for the company. If not, he should be slapped.)

For a company built on innovation to hold back on new technology because they think customers are “content” is kind of lame. To ask “Do we need to go into more fancy solutions?” makes it sound like innovating is too much of a bother for HP.

Listening to these words leads one to believe it’s a case of either-or. It isn’t. Apple added Thunderbolt to iMac in addition to its other ports. It sounds more like rationale than putting the customer first.

If HP was built on invention, and it wishes to stand for invention, it really should act a bit more like it cares about invention. Not just in products, but in the words they choose.

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  • Stephen

    While I agree that HP should at least be offering Thunderbolt as an option for its customers, Apple does not offer both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. They have chosen to go with Thunderbolt and USB 2.0 and have not added USB 3.0 to any of their machines. So for them so far it appears to be an either-or proposition. Though if one has to choose between the two Thunderbolt is clearly better and more versatile than USB 3.0.

  • David

    HP may be a big company with a rich history in computing devices of all sizes and shapes, but it’s rarely been a leader and has been quick to fall into lock step with the PC world as a whole.
    The PC world is very quick to jump on new technology, provided it’s cheap and easy to implement. In other words if they get it for free they’ll tack it on.
    Thunderbolt is new and being held close to the chest by Apple and Intel. For now they are only letting a few high end peripheral makers include it.
    I don’t think that’s a problem. Remember that the original USB was going nowhere until Apple pushed it.
    I wouldn’t worry about Thunderbolt turning into the next FireWire and withering on the vine. Unlike last time around when USB 2.0 was rushed to market because every low cost manufacturer from Sapporo to Singapore complained about paying a license fee for FireWire, there is no USB 4.0 on the horizon to advertise “better” speed than Thunderbolt. 3.0 is still new and nobody except the external storage guys seem to be adopting it.
    If I was in the market for a new computer today I would ensure it had Thunderbolt.

  • Synth

    When I read that phrase about Thunderbolt being “too fancy” I thought I was listening to my Grandma talking, not a leader from one of the largest tech companies on earth.

  • Bud

    Apple can also have a wait-and-see attitude toward new tech until Apple feels it’s ready (holding off on 4G or NFC on iPhones for now.) Apple may crap on and avoid other tech (Bluray). Thunderbolt is Apple’s baby. If instead Thunderbold was innovated by HP, do you think Apple would be interested? They may wait-and-see.

  • Pauljay

    Thunderbolt = Chaining multiple Nvidia FX400o cards, RAID5 storage, uncompressed HD I/O SDI/HDMI interface to your MacBook Pro or iMac.

    That’s insane.
    Try that with USB3.

  • BryanB

    The boys must be rolling over in their garage.