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Will Samsung or HTC Buy HP’s PC Business?

HPAs reported here last week, HP will be selling off its PC business in the coming year or two is it tries to move towards a more B2B-focused, IBM-like business. But with the current economic climate and the increasingly tight margins in the PC world – who is ready to buy their consumer-facing PC business?

As a starting point it is easy to rule out a few companies:

Apple and Sony have no desire to be contenders in the fight to the bottom budget PC market and focus their products on the more expensive end of the market.

ACER is already struggling with its own PC division profits and adding another struggling PC division is not likely to make things any better.

MSI is too small to be able to make a viable bid today, although if HP don’t turn around their plummeting share-price you never know…

Dell would have no desire for the HP business and are struggling themselves at the moment with the increasingly tight margins. Buying HP would give them such a significant market share that they may run into some competition/antitrust issues as well which they would prefer to avoid.

Lenovo was the company that bought IBM’s PC business a few years ago and have turned that around into producing good profits. That said, the HP PC business would add little to Lenovo’s line-up other than volume so I doubt that is something they are particularly keen on.

Microsoft couldn’t buy it for the reasons of both getting into competition with their own customers (hello Google-Motorola) and some serious competition/antitrust issues. But I doubt they would want to buy it either.

Google may have mixed things up with the Motorola acquisition and have some Chromebooks being developed, but they don’t look like they have any desire to get into the laptop business.

Why it could be Samsung or Toshiba

That leaves us with Toshiba and Samsung as descerned by Jack Schofield over at ZDnet. He makes a good case for the buyer being Samsung as the electronics giant already produces some of the best LCD screens and chips which find their way into a good proportion of laptops and phones on the market. With their legal spat with Apple, they may well be losing a major customer for these parts and taking control of HPs PC business could give them more consumer products to put their electronic inside. They do also have their own PC business, but crucially (and unlike Toshiba) it is not in the top five and so could be aided from some expansion. Indeed, there have already been rumours of dicussions between the two companies with the Want China Times reporting rumours of Samsung buying HP’s PC busines back in March.

Why it could be HTC

Now this is a longshot, but I believe could be an interesting move for the Taiwanese Smartphone and tablet manufacturer. The line between phones and PCs are getting increasingly blurred as smartphones and tablets perform many of the functions we have previously used PCs for – and HTC are leading the pack on smartphones alongside Samsung and Apple. In fact, HTC would also be a good buyer for HP’s Palm business as it would give HTC a good patent portfolio to avoid threats from Microsoft and Apple, and also give the company its own OS in WebOS – but this is for another article.

HTC have spent millions bringing their brand for high-end phones and soon tablets to Europe and the US, but a push into the PC market could push it even further. Few outside of technology circles in the West had heard of Lenovo before they bought IBM’s PC division in 2005 for $1.75 Billion but are now the world’s third largest PC vendor. HTC already make high quality consumer electronics, and whilst the PC business is not as lucrative as it once was there are still over 300 million PCs/laptops/servers sold each year – it is not a small market. And if a consumer is very happy with their current HTC equipment (phone and/or tablet) then they may well be persuaded that their next laptop purchase should also be HTC (a little like Apple has managed to increase MacBook market share off the back of huge iPod and iPhone sales).

As a manufacturer of a large proportion of Microsoft products in Windows PCs, HTC would also have a stronger bargaining position with the Redmond-based software giant over patent lawsuits – possibly saving the company the $5/phone license they current pay to Microsoft on all Android phones. The company could also compete more directly with Apple as they could provide a whole ecosystem of products, each one created to function seamlessly with the others. That ecosystem is not possible without a PC hub, and in HP they may have found a way to put that hub into millions of homes as long as they can find the money to do so.

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