HP to test wearables market by working with partners

HP will provide the engineering and technology for wearables designed by fashion houses and partners

Hewlett-Packard's initial approach to the wearables market will be through partnerships, rather than developing products entirely in-house.

HP will provide the engineering and technology for partner companies to use in their wearable products, a source familiar with the company's plans said.

The products could be co-branded, much like a recently announced Michael Bastian Smartwatch from Gilt.com and HP. The smartwatch was designed by fashion designer Michael Bastian, and HP provided the software, user interface design and application for the smartwatch to connect to smartphones.

HP likes the idea of "smart" wearable products that look nice, and that can be achieved through partnerships with fashion designers and companies that are well established in the space, the source said.

HP's approach to the wearables market is exploratory for now, and the company has been quiet about its wearable products and strategy. The company declined to comment on whether it would release more wearable products, whether homegrown or through partners.

There's a lot of experimentation in wearables, and partnerships are the best way for HP to learn about what works and doesn't, said Bob O'Donnell, analyst at Technalysis Research.

HP isn't equipped to make fashion wearables, but can contribute functionality with its hardware and software technologies, O'Donnell said.

"I think it makes perfect sense to work with partners," O'Donnell said. "HP can afford to do it without their brand out there, and learn a lot in the process."

HP can also be an intermediary between wearable manufacturers and the larger fashion brands, O'Donnell said.

There is no killer device yet in wearables, and putting down a small bet to explore the market is not a bad idea, said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

HP is cautious with investments because of some poor decisions in the past relating to the acquisitions of Autonomy and Palm, Kay said.

"They've suffered bad consequences because of poor decisions made in the recent past," Kay said. "They are a bit gun shy, and not leaping in with both feet."

But wearables are gaining in importance, especially in verticals like health care. HP has to be more aggressive and chase market share before it loses ground to rivals.

"Either you're there or not," Kay said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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