HP Makes Bold Move Into Modular Enterprise Workspace With Elite x3 Smartphone #MWC16


HP Elite x3 next to Mobile Extender

I have been researching modular compute use cases for over twenty years. Historically, modularity and extensibility have had a mixed rate of success and typically, success or failure is directly related to the experiential “signal loss” of the base use case and the extended use case. Two examples: convertible PC tablets have been a recent market success while Motorola’s Atrix 4G with its Lapdock was not. HP Inc. ( Hewlett-Packard) made a very bold move today at Mobile World Congress announcing the HP Elite x3, a smartphone that can extend its use into a desktop or a laptop through the use of the Desk Dock and the Mobile Extender.

Modularity has had a mixed history

It helps first to define modularity. Modularity occurs when a device either “morphs” into another device, does what two devices do, or uses a peripheral to extend functionality. I have found in my research that modularity success is directly related to the experiential “signal loss” of the base and the extended experience. The base experience can’t sacrifice too many of its characteristics to morph into the another experience or it winds up being poor at everything. The extended use case doesn’t have to be the absolute best, but it has to be good.

A successful example of modularity is a convertible PC, a tablet that becomes a notebook or a notebook that can be used as a tablet, which has gained recent sales popularity per both IDC’s latest trackers. The base use case is a tablet to be held and touched, but when a keyboard is added, it acts as a notebook. Others start as a notebook but can be a decent tablet.

A few things had to happen before convertibles and detachables were accepted and because they had a rough start with Microsoft Windows 8. First, Windows 10 added the feature of “modality” and could change on the fly between desktop and into “Tablet mode”. Success also required the base tablet to be very thin, get at least 8-10 hours battery life, multitask well, and have an app store. The keyboard had to be just right, too, not too thick as to add weight and thickness, but rigid enough to be used on a lap and keys with the right size and travel. Modularity is a tough thing to get right and it took five years for the industry to get it right with convertibles.

Trends support the Elite x3 modular use case

HP, with its Elite x3, is attacking smartphone modularity and extensibility in the enterprise. This is for large businesses and organizations, not consumers. HP’s fundamental premise is that device trends, user trends, and software trends are intersecting to make modular smartphone computing a success.

HP is spot-on that mobile compute power is skyrocketing, enabling PC-like capabilities. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 is an absolute beast of a performer, too. The reason I add the “-like” is that the x3 can’t perform all PC use cases well, and if that’s your bar, your missing the point. The x3 isn’t intended to replace your full PC experience just as the iPad Pro isn’t intended to replace the Mac experience. HP says that users are looking for less device clutter, which I haven’t specifically researched, but makes sense.

User trends certainly favor the x3 use case. We live in a smartphone centric world where to many users, the smartphone is the most important compute device they own. I’m not talking about emerging markets where someone may have a phone without a PC, but traditional regions, too. Our phones are with us at work, at home, our cars, and everywhere between.

HP has a good point on software trends, too, as to get modularity right, as we saw with the Motorola Atrix and Lapdock, you couldn’t have two or three different experiences. Windows 10 brings an OS that can span from a HoloLens to a phone to a tablet to a convertible to a PC to an Xbox. Universal apps can span every one of these platforms, which means that an enterprise could write a Universal App and use it pretty much everywhere. The cloud is a big help too, where like enterprises virtualize apps, you could place incompatible apps in the cloud. The standard for mobile apps is iOS and Android while the PC is Windows. With Windows 10 bridges to iOS and Android, things get a lot more interesting in application development environment. Virtualization and VDI is used and has been used for more than a decade inside enterprises for them to use dated apps.

HP Elite x3 smartphone


HP Elite x3 (front)

The Elite x3 experience all starts with a “phablet” or large smartphone. HP is keen on calling it a “mobile platform” because if you start off the conversation with a new Windows 10 smartphone, you will lose everyone right now. The x3 really is a platform when you consider all the different hardware and software elements. But I want to talk about the “phone”, the main compute element of the platform.

I have had many debates with my analyst brethren as to whether a “business smartphone” segment exists. I believe and believe one could exist, as many under-served needs exist. The response is then, “look at BlackBerry”, “look at Apple”, or both. Listen, I spent over 20 years in products and those are lame responses. BlackBerry failed for many reasons, one which was they chased after consumers and took their eye off of the business segment. Apple did well for many reasons, not that they over-served the business segment. The difference between a business phone and a consumer phone in the Blackberry days were day and night and businesses had to use consumer smartphones.

There are numerous unmet needs in business mobility which I’ll hit in detail in another column. Simple ones, like conference calling comes to mind. Why do I need two devices, one to look at the password and one to dial into a conference call with a code and password? I need one to make the call and one to see the dial in information. Why do phones need to shatter like fine china when you drop them on the floor or why do we need to get a new one when water gets spilled on them. This is silly.


HP Elite x3 (rear)

The HP Elite x3 is dust and water resistant and passes the MIL-STD 810G. 810G compliance means it passes 29 different tests from shock, rain, immersion, dust, freeze, to shock and acceleration. It should survive a 4-foot drop. It’s also IP 67 compliant against dust and water.

The x3 was also built to be enterprise secure. HP says it supports dual hardware MFA (multi-factor authentication) with a built-in Iris detector and fingerprint reader. It supports FIPS 140-2 cryptography, Qualcomm Secure Boot, 128-bit key Unified Image Encryption, 256-bit key Full Disk Encryption, Anti roll back and fTMP 2.0 security. For Windows 10, the x3 supports Bitlocker encryption, enterprise-grade VPN (128-bit VPN-SSL) and the Intune MDM.

This doesn’t mean it’s some enterprise brick, either. It’s a very attractive phone. It has a near edge to edge AMOLED display and is only 7.8mm thick, even though it supports a microSD slot. It has the absolute latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC (MSM8996) as well, which means it will be an incredible performer.

Here are other relevant specifications:

Display 5.96” AMOLED 2560×1440; Corning Gorilla Glass 4.0
Camera 16MP front, 8 MP rear, Iris camera
LTE Qualcomm Snapdragon X12 LTE, CAT 12, 600mbps DL/150mbps UL; All Mode dual nano SIM
CPU Qualcomm Kryo, 4, 64-bit custom cores
Graphics Qualcomm Adreno 530
ISP Qualcomm Spectra; 14-bit
WiFi Qualcomm Atheros 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO; (802.11ad unknown)
Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Storage 64 GB eMMC 5.1 and one microSD slot supporting up to 2 TB
Audio Stereo speakers, 3 noise canceling microphones; B&O-branded
Dimensions 83.5 x 7.8 x 161.8mm
Weight 195g
Sensors Ambient light, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, pressure, hall effect, NFC, GPS
Ports 3.5mm audio, USB 3.0 Type C, dual nano SIM, micro SD, Pogo pins
Battery 4,150 mAH
OS Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile

As you can see, no cut corners here. I have not used the Elite x3, so I cannot vouch for how these beefy specifications translate into a phone experience.

Elite x3 as a desktop via Desk Dock


HP Elite x3 in “desktop mode”

The Elite x3 slots into the Desk Dock and can be used as a full-size desktop, where the user can connect to a full-sized display, keyboard, mouse, gigabit Ethernet, charger, and external USB peripherals. The x3 phone can then be used as a second display to show smaller items like your calendar, Twitters streams, or even the desktop with Live Tiles. This is a great use case for Microsoft’s Live Tiles.


HP Desk Dock

The key here are apps and how they transform from the phone to the desktop. This transformation comes in two ways, one via Microsoft’s Windows 10 Continuum and the other is through HP Workspace, an app virtualization service. Many Universal apps like Office 365, Edge browser and Facebook work well today with Continuum, but very few Windows 10 apps do at this point. Twitter is a good example where when you open it, it asks you to use it on your phone. For those circumstances, HP is offering “Infinity” to virtualize any PC app, even WIN32, in the cloud. This is what enterprises do every day on their legacy apps. I do not have details on pricing or which apps are supported on Infinity, but will write about it as quickly as I do.

As I discussed in the introduction, the level of success for the extended x3 use cases will be directly related to how many apps desired by enterprises will be supported here natively, via Continuum, and via Infinity. I think it would be very interesting to see what a Windows 10 mobile, x86-based solution could do where it supports WIN32 apps, but that’s not in the cards, at least not right now.

Fluidity and speed are paramount here. I have used Continuum with the Nokia 950 and the experience was good on Office 365, but not great. I’m interested to see what happens as you add the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 the mix which increased performance 2X in certain use cases. It should make a big difference. I have not used the x3 or Desk Dock but will tell you when I do.

Elite x3 as a notebook via Mobile Extender


HP Elite x3 in “notebook mode”

The Elite x3 can also transform into a notebook by connecting the x3 phone to the HP Mobile Extender. The Mobile Extender is literally a notebook “shell” with a large battery which is driven entirely by the x3 smartphone. As with the Desk Dock, the Mobile Extender shares the processors, memory, storage, wireless from the phone.

The user connects the x3 to the Extender via a USB-C cable and the “notebook” lights up just as it did in “desktop” mode above. The display is 12.5” LED running at 1080P (1920 x 1080). The keyboard, as you would expect with anything going into the enterprise is spill-resistant.


HP Mobile Extender

The Extender has a big battery, to a 4 cell 46.5 WHr and charges the phone first before charging itself when plugged in. It has decent connectivity, too with one USB-C for the x3 and charging, 2 USB-C for external peripherals, 1 microHDMI and headphone jack. It has Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers and an integrated noise canceling microphone. It’s light, too, at 2.2lb but not too light to feel like toy.

The x3 with Mobile Extender is governed by the same app “rules” as the Desk Dock, too.

Wrapping up

I really like what HP Inc. (Hewlett-Packard) is doing with the x3 in the enterprise and believe that this will be at least one relevant use case in our future of computing.  What I have seen so far is very positive and I need to use the solution myself to weigh on its enterprise applicability today. As I said in the intro, the experiential “signal to loss ratio” will govern the level success on the Elite x3. To do this, it needs to be a really good phone and deliver a good desktop, a good notebook experience. The x3 has the first truly modular operating system with Windows 10, an incredibly powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, “shims” to fill in many of the enterprise app holes, and well-designed peripherals enabling extended experiences. Interestingly, it’s solutions like this that could reinvigorate the Windows 10 mobile app community, who has been really quiet lately. I really like what HP has done to make the x3 more enterprise-grade when it comes to security with features like hardware-based multi-factor biometric authentication as well as its durability with MIL-STD 810G and IP 67 compliance. Enterprises have been begging for this combination of enhanced biometric security and durability and quite frankly, the more consumer-based phone companies haven’t delivered it.  The smartphone game just got monumentally more interesting. Nice job HP.