February 19, 2012 3:51 pm

HP to embed search into printers and PCs

Hewlett-Packard is planning to launch a series of printers and computers embedded with Autonomy’s search software, bringing the group more directly into competition with companies such as Microsoft and Google.

Mike Lynch, who sold Autonomy to HP last year and now runs HP’s information management business, said Autonomy software – best known for catching insider trading at banks and monitoring call-centre phone calls – would be coming into the hands of ordinary consumers later this year as HP launches a number of “intelligent” computers and printers embedded with the technology.

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“What we have done with people from HP is give them assets and technology to do things with,” Mr Lynch said. “We have the luxury of very high margins that allow them to be experimental. I think they are enjoying that.”

Mr Lynch gave no further detail on devices, but a mobile phone or tablet computer with Autonomy’s augmented reality software, for example, would be able to search for information and internet links after simply being pointed at an image.

Frank Gillett, analyst at Forrester, the technology research group, said Autonomy software, which is able to extract meaning from unstructured data such as audio, video, social media, email and web content, could also turn HP printers into intelligent storage devices. These might not only scan documents but also organise them based on the information they contained.

“It would create an electronic document storage system that could be linked to an online HP service,” Mr Gillett said. “The printer might even be able to say ‘hey that looks like an insurance document and the last date of the insurance is coming up, do you want to renew?’”

Autonomy could also give HP additional tools for mobile phone software and services, an area that the computer company has so far had little success in. Production of the company’s TouchPad tablet was aborted after poor sales last year, but Meg Whitman, HP’s chief executive, has recently been promoting HP’s mobile operating system, WebOS, which it has made into an open-source platform.

“What is on your smartphone is not structured data,” HP’s Mr Lynch said. “On a mobile the system needs to understand the context, such as where you are now. Mobile is going to be a primary platform for Autonomy.”

Such moves could help HP justify the $10.3bn it paid for Autonomy last year, a deal that ultimately cost HP’s then chief executive Léo Apotheker his job. HP has so far integrated the Autonomy software into some of its servers, but using the technology for consumer products could extract further value.

However, Forrester’s Mr Gillett warned that the move would also push HP into more direct competition with companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple. All three already offer online storage and management of documents and media, and voice-recognition technology such as Apple’s Siri is building on an ability to understand human data such as speech.

Adrian Drury, analyst at technology research group Ovum, is concerned that HP would struggle in a consumer market where other big technology companies have already staked their claims.

“Pushing some kind of smart document management system into the consumer market might be too radical a proposition,” Mr Drury said. “We are looking for HP to get its strategy back on track by focusing on the enterprise market, not overstretching itself by becoming a consumer devices company of a consumer cloud services company.”

HP, which has seen sales of its PCs suffer as customers switched to using tablet computers, has already started fighting back against Apple in a number of ways, including the launch of a range of thinner, lighter notebooks and a series of HP “Total Care” centres, which are like Apple’s Genius Bars, physical stores where computer experts are at hand to help customers.

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