HP's End Run: Sneaking Tablets into Homes Via a Printer

Last Updated Sep 20, 2010 5:19 PM EDT

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) made a number of product announcements that demonstrate how the company plans to use digital media as a form of stealth marketing. From packaging printers with Google (GOOG) Android-powered wireless tablets to using third party Web-centric apps, HP clearly wants to use Web-centric devices to drive older product lines that you don't necessarily associate with online. It may work, it may not, but it's impressively creative and clever and the type of experimentation that many high tech companies should do.

For example, look at the Photosmart eStation. It includes a W-Fi tablet that runs Android 2.1 and which is supposed to eventually run the 2.2 version. This is a way to offer a printer at $399 that just happens to include a tablet for media consumption. There are limitations, like Yahoo having locked down significant application integration. (The two companies are partners in the attempt to combine Web and printers.) Also, there is no direction connection to Google's Android marketplace. Still, with four to six hours of battery life the combination printer and tablet comes in far less than an Apple (AAPL) iPad as well as cheaper than many proposed Android tablet prices. With that approach, how many consumers would opt for a printer to get the tablet as a freebie? Here's a video of the device:


HP talked somewhat vaguely in the past about integrating direct Web access with its printers. The company's attempt to discuss this in the summer was too general and unconvincing in a world where many are moving to viewing material on screens. The print apps that HP plans for the printers include a few that seem a natural success: one to print Delta Airline boarding passes, another for Bing maps and driving directions, a couple that will print cooking recipes. Not all the apps have that sensible match between Web access and documents that people are likely to want in print. How often do people print out photos or news items, for example?

HP's moves don't seem like a guaranteed win by any means, but they are at least a small step out of trying to do everything as usual, a problem that has been dogging most of the industry for years. If nothing else, it's a good exercise and may lead the company to eventually find a successful combination of online and on paper.

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Image: Courtesy of HP
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.