How sustainability and hybrid work has become a part of computer design | Alex Cho

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Alex Cho, president of HP Personal Systems, showed off a bunch of gear from a HyperX keyboard with zany animal characters to HP’s latest Omen gaming PCs while at the CES 2023 tech trade show.

Those new products from HP underscored the big trends of modern computer design, with an emphasis on sustainability and the hybrid world of work and personal time.

HP Personal Systems showed up with a variety of new products, and I got a chance to interview Cho about the trends that he has seen. We talked in a showroom at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas, after most of the products were unveiled at the show.

Cho sees hybrid computers as a huge catalyst for innovation, while sustainability has gone in unpredictable directions — like using coffee grounds in a computer.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

VentureBeat: Hybrid seems to be the strategy here. How long has that been going on? The whole pandemic era, as far as just making products for hybrid life?

Alex Cho: Hybrid, for us, is a tremendous catalyst for a lot of new innovation, but also it’s just validating and accelerating things we’ve been working on overall. One key thing that it’s accelerating for us, we’ve said that our intent is not to be a PC speeds and feeds vendor. You’ve heard me talk about this. We’re shifting toward experiences and solutions. Hybrid has been an amazing catalyst for doing that. More than being in just PCs and IDC PC markets, we’re going to look at hybrid work, hybrid life. How do we be a leader in the solutions there? How do we be a leader in gaming?

A third thing we’re talking about here at CES is the importance of–we’ll be innovating for hybrid work, life, gaming, and also innovating in sustainability. Those are the three big areas where you’ve seen announcements for us. We think it’s very favorable for the industry, really for our customers, all the innovation. And then for us this is a strong long-term growth driver.

VentureBeat: Gary Shapiro was saying that sustainability, and also just technology for good, was a theme this year. That seems to align with you.

Cho: What I say is, this past year was the year of 100% for us. One hundred percent of our PCs and displays had recycled material. One hundred percent of the PCs we shipped in 2022 were EP Gold. We’re like 2X our next competitor. One hundred percent of our paper packaging has moved now toward sustainably sourced recycled material. One hundred percent of the energy use–we’re moving toward sustainable energy sources in the manufacturing process across 95% of our portfolio. This is not a token initiative. It’s a scaled initiative.

What we announced here at CES is we’re taking that further. We’re getting into new innovations in sustainability. We introduced new types of materials like coffee grounds that we’re using inside our new all-in-one.

VentureBeat: The coffee grounds were a surprise.

Cho: It just shows you that this space is ripe for continued innovation. And we can do it at scale. This year we recently passed a billion pounds of recycled material that we’ve used since 2019. We care about innovation, but you know me. My strategy is to innovate and scale, innovate and scale. The same thing applies to sustainability.

VentureBeat: On the logistics side, how did you figure some of this out? Like finding recycled plastics at scale.

Cho: We’ve worked with multiple different sources and types. Number one is, how do we use recycled materials? We’ve talked about materials like ocean-bound plastics. You heard us talk about that with Dragonfly. We’ve introduced coffee grounds. That’s a smaller part of the total mix. We’re using materials like waste food oil. We’re partnering with companies that are able to source this, and we actively work on getting that transformed into–whether it’s key caps or part of the enclosure. In our all-in-one, the enclosure, the neck and stand, even the felt cover, 100%ercent of that is recycled material at the base. All of those have different types of sourcing strategies that we can scale on different products. We’ve had to work on, again, innovate useful material, and then scale.

VentureBeat: One thing I wonder about with things like gaming, whether or not it’s getting so specialized that it becomes a whole different supply chain–does a hybrid laptop or desktop become harder to do? Even AMD is fragmenting the architecture in different ways toward commercial versus gaming GPUs and CPUs. How do you do hybrid products when gaming winds up being so customized, or needs to be so customized?

Cho: First, the gaming TAM is large and it’s growing. That reflects multiple customer segments. It’s not one size fits all. If you see our strategy, it’s a huge opportunity because the TAM is growing across different segments. There are segments that are very much hardcore. Gaming enthusiasts. But we’re also seeing that gaming is becoming a more lifestyle–there’s a broad-based set of gamers. It doesn’t fit the traditional demographics of 15 years ago.

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First, then, we’re going after multiple customer segments. Second, the way we’re going after that is identifying different segments and different product strategies that enable them. Some of them are going to be–if you think about what we announced with our Omen 40, 45L, that’s top of the line. That’s for people who are buying a device dedicated to gaming. The design center is tuned for that. That’s where we put in all of our engineering chops around thermal and cooling, both hardware and software, to maximize performance. That’s maybe the segment you’re talking about.

As well, we’ve launched Victus, which is more mainstream. It recognizes that people want a device for consumer activities as well as gaming. We’ve found a balance of enabling it for consumer applications and gaming. You’ll see more of that use case, that mixed mode. That one is more what you would call hybrid.

We’ve also announced the integration of GeForce Now into our Omen Gaming Hub. That gives you access to 1,400 titles. But the more important thing is, we use Omen Gaming Hub, our software center, to optimize the performance on this high-end rigs, on the Victus platforms, and on our mainstream consumer platforms. We take the heavy lift of some of that conversation in Omen Gaming Hub. If you think about the announcement today, we announced Omen 17 notebook, Omen 40 and 45. Time to market with the latest in terms of CPU and Nvidia graphics. But then we do all the additional optimization and performance power delivery above that, because Omen Gaming Hub is able to leverage device characteristics and sensors in them to give you improved performance.

Our mindset on this is, segment the customers, identify their use cases, leverage different different mixes of their use cases with the types of products, and then deliver it as an ecosystem using a systems approach, so that we can deliver gaming to the broader segments. Our gaming announcement is really a system announcement. Hardware for multiple segments, Omen Gaming Hub that adapts that for each different segment, and then–a gaming experience is a rig. You want your headphones and your mice and your microphone. AI lighting all synchronized. It’s designed as a system. You’re going to see a lot more of that. That’s what people like.

VentureBeat: I imagine that corporate IT people might balk at a request to buy an Omen for my work-from-home machine. But a Victus might get past them. It’s interesting to have that option.

Cho: The other thing to note, even though this is the Consumer Electronics Show, you’re seeing that hybrid means we’re bringing in work and life together. It’s hard to differentiate them if you think about people’s lives and how they’re working. We announced a lot around maximizing new experiences for work. Freelancers are a key segment. Freelancers are growing. Hybrid is driving this massive shift toward freelancers and gig work. By 2027 we expect it to be about 50% of the U.S. work force.

This is a community that has a larger set of needs in terms of a computing device. We interviewed freelancers. They say, “My whole business is run from my PC.” That was one of the most powerful statements. Several freelancers said this. “I don’t think you understand. This isn’t a part of my business. My entire business is run from this thing. I need so much more.”

That’s why we took Dragonfly and supercharged it into Dragonfly Pro. We put in a lot of engineering so that you get productivity that comes from performance that is best in class across Windows and Mac 14” competitors. Second thing is, that’s without sacrificing battery life. Fifteen percent over the best in class, what we have out there. And then their business is run off their device, so they’re interacting with people all the time. All of our innovations around HP Presence and video capabilities are integrated in there, like natural lighting and face framing.

Another key thing that freelancers tell us, if this is how they run their business, they can’t afford it being down for a minute. We’ve integrated an offering, 24/7 enhanced support that’s available, direct live support. It’s not just a support offering. On our device, the Dragonfly Pro, we’ve integrated 26 sensors that are constantly monitoring so that we can be more intelligent in supporting the customer. It’s not just another device. We’re designing this thing so that we can do a better job of delivering an experience for the customer on an ongoing basis, where their device is how they run their business.

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We announced, across Dragonfly, our 1000 series for corporate customers. All the new HP Presence. We focused a lot on better face in the past few years. We realized we needed a camera that focused on the face, but also focuses on–I’m writing on an object. Dual camera, dual streaming. Have you seen the demos on dual cam that we’re able to manage? We realized that in a hybrid world, you’ll want the ability to see the face, but also, if you have a piece of paper–we have auto-keystoning, so you can mix writing on that piece of paper as well as your face. You can mix it together. You can dynamically manage it. It squares it out. Then we can rotate this. You can see my chicken-scratch writing. You can dual streams. You’re showing the person that you’re writing in real time.

A key part of what we’re doing around, again, hybrid work, hybrid life. How do you bring that all together? We also announced that it’s not only about video. It’s about audio. We introduced our Poly earbuds. We’ve taken their great technology around audio, designed for work first. Most earbuds are music first. These are work first, and also do great music. Why is it work first? It has six mics, three mics on each side to create a better capture of your speech. It gives you five and a half hours, and this will give you an additional 10 hours. Certified for Zoom, Teams, Google Meet. You can also manage this through our Poly Lens software. Again, in a work environment you want to be able to manage these things and make sure they’re up to date.

Again, hybrid work. It’s designing for maximum productivity when you’re working. Get the types of service and support you need on an ongoing basis. You show up with your clients, you want to look great here, but you also may want to show them things. You want to be heard. What’s great about something like this, it’s designed for work, and it does great audio for music as well. You see it all coming together. Hybrid, for us, it’s a tremendous catalyst for a lot of innovation that we’ve been working on. Audio and video, we’ve been working on those for a while.

VentureBeat: What do you think of, say, the metaverse these days, and whether the metaverse vision is going to survive a tough economy?

Cho: In gaming, that’s probably the best instantiation where we see that. You see things like concerts being introduced via Fortnite, as an example. One thing that we also announced is personalized key caps. HyperX now–what we love about this is it starts to bridge the physical and digital. Think about the assets we’re bringing together. What is the insight? The insight first is that gaming is very much an immersive experience. Also, gamers want to personalize their experience. This gives us the ability to create an entire system that takes the assets around our gaming business, our HP 3D capabilities, and we’re introducing customized peripherals starting with key caps. You can see we have an opportunity to expand that more.

You see an emerging transition from what’s in the digital world to the physical world and back. Those kinds of use cases are the ones that are most substantial. There’s a whole ecosystem you can imagine growing from something like this. That’s probably the strongest instantiation given the current environment around how we see those coming together.

VentureBeat: To the second part of the question, whether this survives a tough economy, there are all the metaverse skeptics saying that if we have to cut back everything else, why should we keep pursuing something like the metaverse? In-person interactions are all coming back, so why go after a concept that was born out of the pandemic?

Cho: Customers are telling us that both of these things are true. Meaning that–I think 70-plus percent of people still want to keep a hybrid flexibility, being remote and coming in. And there’s value in coming into the office or seeing people. That’s why, if you look at our entire portfolio, it’s optimizing for both. How do you make sure that, when you work from home, you’re connected, productive, able to show up visually? You can access resources on your local compute or, through what we did with Teradici, remotely access computing.

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When you go into the office, the office is a space where you’ll be working with people who are both in the office and remote themselves. How do we equip rooms with Poly to have experiences where people can stay connected, work with other teams, and have the workplace be a place that’s also thriving? We think that both areas are going to be areas where we have rich innovation, because it’s not going to be one or the other.

VentureBeat: Are there any other big themes you’ve picked up on at CES this year?

Cho: We’ve got the hybrid. Freelancers. The performance. Collaboration. Immersive displays. We have the world’s first 45 inch dual quad HD single USB-C powered experience. We talked about gaming. Gaming, again, it’s accelerating both performance as a system enhanced by Omen Gaming Hub, enabling the first Windows-based GeForce Now integration to Omen Gaming Hub, but you can also make available an immersive experience through peripherals. We announced a broad set of HyperX peripherals and the personalization we talked about.

Then the third thing is sustainability. That really is, for us, a passion. Second, it’s a purpose. Third, it’s something that we’ve done at scale. We can innovate even more. Beyond the hundreds that I’ve mentioned, new types of innovative materials. We’re delivering this in increasing quantities, increasing parts of the total product. We’re doing it all across the line.

We’ve also introduced our new carbon neutral computing service, so that if you’re corporate IT, you have a carbon neutral offering for the device. Given all the things that I’ve mentioned in terms of materials, recycled content, plus we have two options. One is, everything that’s to the door to you, including production and logistics, offsetting that, as well as the life cycle ongoing needs, so that for the entire ownership of that product, as a company, we will support you in remaining carbon neutral for computing. You see that sustainability is scaling very broad for us.

Hardware innovation, software innovation, solution innovation. We’re wrapping that together for these experiences. Hybrid work, gaming, and then sustainability.

What is growing beyond devices is data and computing. That’s what’s growing. The demand and opportunities around core computing, both in higher performance computing, remote computing, collaborative computing–those use cases we talked about we think will be huge catalysts as well for the overall computing segment. That’s why we’ve been working with Nvidia around Omniverse, leveraging that as well.

Imagine you have a collection of designers who are located in multiple places, collaboratively working together to enable projects. The work space is becoming virtual so that can happen, which is such a fundamental expansion of our idea of the office and the work space and how people can work together.

VentureBeat: You enable creators, and then the creators are going to fill out so much of the metaverse. What they can’t do, the generative AI is going to take over. I think that’s what makes it all happen.

Cho: What other things are you focused on nowadays?

VentureBeat: There’s still that convergence of Hollywood and gaming going on. People like J. J. Abrams having their own game companies now. All these Hollywood productions like The Last of Us coming. They’re starting to greenlight so much. Netflix is very heavily invested in this gaming-entertainment convergence.

Cho: Remember how you started our discussion about gaming, with hardcore games? When we think about gaming, that TAM is expansive. There are more gamers, yes, but the demographics are changing. Age, gender. The use case, from casual to–the end goal is not always so much gaming as it is socializing, if you think about how it’s become such a social connect. Gaming has an intersection with entertainment as well, if you look at the creation of movies and music in that intersection.

What’s great is, that’s why having a footprint in our workstation business around creators, gaming assets, as well as end consumers and our focus on audio and video–do you see how all of this comes together for us? A rich ecosystem of assets for creating–we call it creating it, consuming it, and collaborating with others in that process. That all comes together. If you look at the different assets and innovations we’re driving, you’ll see that continue to come together. Again, hybrid is a tremendous catalyst for growth!

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