HP's Apotheker Wants To Beat Apple At Its Own Game

HP CEO Leo Apotheker hasn't had much interaction with channel partners, but he sure is chatty when it comes to talking about his strategy for boosting HP's credibility in the consumer space.

In an interview with the BBC last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Apotheker said HP's solid footing in the consumer and business markets is unique in the IT industry. He also suggested that HP can give Apple a run for its money by paying more attention to product design.

"I hope one day people will say 'this is as cool as HP,' not 'as cool as Apple,'" Apotheker said in the BBC interview.

Apotheker also cited HP's "wow factor from the consumer side" and suggested that HP will take this, add a layer of enterprise security gravitas, and spin it into products whose appeal will span the disparate worlds of consumer and business users.

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The fast growth of Apple's iPhone and iPad in business settings shows that the future road to enterprise success will run through consumers. HP has some nice consumer products, but none inspire the sort of borderline frightening materialistic frenzy that can be witnessed at any Apple store. So Apotheker's decision to pull Apple into the discussion is raising eyebrows among industry pundits who've been waiting for him to outline his priorities.

"In some circles HP is pretty cool. But many would argue that HP would never be as cool as Apple, or at least question whether it should strive to be," said Chris Barnes, vice president of research and solutions development at Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based research firm that follows HP.

"Is this a signal that HP is willing to give up market share in exchange for a higher share of coolness? So long as 'cool' is a euphemism for 'profit,' then Apotheker may have a point. But carrying out that vision won't be easy," Barnes said.

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Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Fresno, Calif.-based HP partner, expects HP to court both businesses and consumers with webOS but is doubtful that Apotheker can make this strategy work.

"The problem is that no one has a clue who this guy is because he hasn't done a good job of communicating with the channel or with customers," Duffy said. "HP does have some awesome technology, and if the company was led by engineers, things might be different."

HP is expected to unveil its first webOS tablets at an event on Feb. 9, and Apotheker is reportedly "jazzed" about their potential.

HP will also hold an event on March 14 in Los Angeles, where Apotheker is expected to unfurl his strategy for the future of HP as well as a roadmap for building the company's software business, which accounted for just 3 percent of HP's $126 billion in fiscal 2010 revenue.

In a November conference call with investors, Apotheker vowed to build and diversify HP's software business. "We need more software both as a category and also across the portfolio so that we can differentiate our individual products and services," he said. "Doubling it wouldn't be too bad. Tripling it would be even better."