Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) showed off new low-cost, fashion-inspired mini-laptops Wednesday in a bid to tap into the growing demand for super-portable laptops. The company took the wraps off its Mini 1000 family, with prices pegged under $400 in a fast-growing niche, where there is stiff price competition. HP unveiled its first Mini six months ago that was priced at $499. And Dell ( DELL ) recently launched a $349 version of its Inspiron Mini. The Mini 1000 is offered in Windows and Linux versions and is targeted at fashionistas with stylish touches that were created in collaboration with designer Vivienne Tam. The Mini Vivienne Tam Edition, which comes in vibrant red, with a flower-design, has been dubbed the world's first "digital clutch," and was apparently mistaken for a purse at Tam's recent Spring show. By teaming up with Vivienne Tam, HP is looking to offer a funky, female-focused alternative to other mini laptops, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "You're seeing a big push towards making laptops more fashionable and personal," he said, noting the big role design has played in Apple's success. HP, which is up against Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Samsung in the crowded low-end notebook market, is not the first laptop company to team up with an artist or designer. Dell, for example, began offering laptops covered with tattoo-inspired designs by artist Mike Ming earlier this year. Mini-laptops, also known as "netbooks," are growing in popularity with consumers looking for a cheaper, lighter alternative to desktops and traditional laptops.
HP, whose first Mini, the 2133 Mini-Note, was aimed at the educational market, is broadening its focus with the launch of the Mini 1000. Touted as "companion PCs," mini-laptops are now being aimed at families that want more than one computer. At the moment, however, mini-laptops account for a relatively small percentage of the overall laptop market, although this figure is growing, according to analyst firm IDC. IDC estimates that of the 148 million laptops that are expected to be sold worldwide in 2008, just 10.8 million will be mini-laptops. That figure could almost double to 21 million in 2009, according to IDC research manager David Daoud. "This is a growing market," he told TheStreet.com, adding that travel and Web browsing such as social networking are boosting demand for mini-laptops. HP's latest move reflects the changing nature of the PC market, as companies shift their focus from desktop-saturated enterprises onto the consumer space, although the firm's margins for HP's mini-laptop line will be small. "They are relatively cheap to build, but at some point they need the mass market
to adopt mini-laptops to make this product tick," said IDC's Daoud. Currently, Western Europe represents the sweet-spot for this product. Some 60% of mini-laptop sales are on the other side of the Atlantic, with the resale of notebooks by European telecom firms accounting for a large part of it. HP, for example, has a partnership with Austrian firm Mobilkom for its 2133 mini-laptop. "The U.S. is still a maturing market," added Daoud. " But the U.S. telcos are looking at how these European experiments are working."
HP's shares rose 70 cents, or 1.99%, to $35.79 in trading Wednesday, despite continued sluggishness in the tech sector, which saw the Nasdaq slip 0.37%.