SAP, a devices company? Maybe, maybe not

While SAP has made a big push into mobile software and device management with the acquisition of Sybase and a series of apps, it hasn’t made overt moves into the devices market. But this could change down the road, judging from a recently published patent application submitted by SAP.

The application, which was published late last month, describes a “foldable information worker mobile device” which can be reconfigured to work as a tablet, laptop, phone, e-reader and other device types as an employee moves through a series of tasks.

Beyond the obvious advantage of combining multiple devices into one unit, it could improve software compatibility, lower data synchronization requirements and cut users’ “cognitive burden,” according to the application.

An SAP spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the application, which was first flagged by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

It’s not difficult to imagine how such a device would fit into SAP’s mobile strategy, a key piece of which is Fiori, a large and growing set of lightweight mobile applications that tap data and processes from its flagship Business Suite software.

SAP has also been keen to change the public’s perception of it as a vendor of large, complex back-end software packages. Earlier this year, it unveiled a new marketing tag line, “Run Simple,” and the first in a series of simplified versions of Business Suite modules.

However, while SAP has close relationships with hardware companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, particularly with respect to systems that run its Hana in-memory database platform, it has shied away from selling hardware itself, whether through direct or contract manufacturing.

Therefore, SAP watchers would be wise to temper their expectations, according to one observer.

“I’d say that it’s one of those patents you file when you see that the future of work will evolve in a certain way and you can use it as part of your patent portfolio,” said analyst Ray Wang, chairman and founder of Constellation Research. “If we see them build out a hardware ecosystem for their software, they could potentially have a Foxconn build these for themselves. However, it’s a bit far-fetched. It’s a good defensive patent though.”

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