If Hewlett-Packard sells off some or all of its non-printing consumer hardware business, the most likely buyer is probably Samsung. And the Korean hardware giant has reportedly reached out to Taiwanese notebook vendors to explore just that.
According to Digitimes’ sources, Samsung met with top HP notebook contractor Quanta Computer, as well as Compal Electronics and Pegatron Technology, to discuss outsourcing notebook orders. All three companies are based in Taiwan, while Samsung currently manufactures all of its computers in mainland China.
To these sources (upstream vendors in the PC component industry), this signals something bigger than just Samsung trolling for new subcontractors: Samsung “seem(s) like it is already in preparation to take up Hewlett-Packard’s (HP’s) PC business.”
It is best known for its wide range of consumer electronics hardware, but Samsung already ships 10 million laptops annually (a projected 16 million-17 million this year), still a fraction of the 64 million PCs and 40 million laptops HP shipped in 2010. Samsung is also a leading manufacturer of memory, hard drives, screens, batteries and other computer components; control of HP’s PCs would give them a huge outlet for those products and plenty of opportunities to cut costs through vertical integration. Finally, unlike HP, Samsung is firmly committed to (and has found great success in) low-margin, high-volume hardware.
As we reported last week, rumors of an HP-Samsung deal have been circulating in Taiwan and the tech press since 2010. Reportedly, a deal to sell the PC division was in place then, but fell through; after rumors of a continued deal reemerged in March, HP flatly denied it.
Since HP’s announcement last week that it was looking to separate part or all of its Personal Services Group, speculation about a Samsung deal has started again. As ZDNet UK’s Jack Schofield writes, “Samsung may be the only PC company that has the money, that is big enough to absorb PSG, and that would actually want it”:
Acer is already struggling with falling PC shipments, Asus doesn’t have the cash, and MSI is too small. Lenovo has already taken over IBM’s PC division and doesn’t need PSG. Neither Sony nor Apple wants to be in the low-end PC businesses anyway: both target people with more money. Microsoft can’t buy PSG because it would be a giant headache, from an anti-trust point of view, and because it would be competing with its own customers (a mistake Google is making by buying Motorola’s phone division). That leaves two main options—Toshiba and Samsung—with the latter being the clear favourite.
“Or at least,” Schofield adds, “would want HP’s laptop business.” HP’s Personal Services Group is huge, much bigger than just computers, and Samsung already has substantial overlap with many of its product categories. But the long-term growth and profit prospects for products like digital cameras and desktop towers (outside of enterprise and office sales, which HP could conceivably fold in anyways) are fairly grim—which is why HP’s looking to separate from it in the first place. The future of the PC is in increasingly lightweight, portable machines—or something HP hasn’t invented yet.
(Plus, you know, whatever patents HP would part with that might help Samsung, blah lorem patents ipsum blah.)
So if Samsung takes on HP’s hardware business, they’re likely to only take or keep a piece: enough to make them a major player in computing, but no more than would drag them down like it did HP.
However, even for a company as large as Samsung, just a piece of HP’s PC business would still be a very big piece.