HP CEO tells users what she's going to do -- and what she isn't

Whitman makes it clear to gathering of IT execs that HP won't enter the smartphone business next year

ORLANDO -- Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman took to the stage at Gartner's Symposium/ITexpo here Wednesday looking to convince customers that HP is on solid footing.

Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman
HP CEO Meg Whitman said the company will be in the smartphone market "in the end," but not next year. (Reuters file photo)

She emphasized the tech pioneer's commitment to research and development, security systems and the development of new products like ARM-based low powered servers.

But Whitman perhaps best revealed her management approach when she told attendees what she isn't going to do.

Whitman said HP needs to be in the smartphone market "in the end" -- but not next year.

Yvonne Genovese, one of the Gartner analysts interviewing Whitman on stage here, wanted to be sure the HP CEO was heard correctly. "Are you going to have a smartphone or not?" Genovese asked. "Not in 2013," Whitman replied, adding that "I suspect we will beyond that."

Whitman said the smartphone is the main Internet access device in many countries. "I don't know how we can be HP without having the full range of devices," she said.

Genovese seem a little incredulous with HP's decision to wait until after 2013 to come out with a smartphone. "I can't figure out in my mind how you are going to compete when you already have the iPhone and the Android taking the market by storm, and you're waiting two more years," she said.

Whitman's response: "We have to get everything organized."

"In a turnaround, I am a big believer in pacing and sequencing," said Whitman. "We need to do small number of things really well as opposed to try to solve world hunger here, and so focus is incredibly important."

Whitman said she believes that things are changing so fast in the mobile market that HP may be able to leapfrog other vendors when it finally comes out with a product. "There are lots of things that I think will give us an opening in a year or two," she said.

Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald asked Whitman about Microsoft's new tablets and whether "it's fair to compete with a vendor that doesn't necessarily have to pay for the operating system and can bundle Office into their form factor and you can't?"

"Everything is fair in this business," said Whitman. "It's a cutthroat, very competitive business. That's what I love about this business."

Whitman said HP is producing consumer devices coming out as hybrid laptop-tablets, while Microsoft's Surface tablet doesn't function as much like a laptop, citing the keyboard in particular.

Whitman did add that Microsoft is "a very good partner of ours. In fact, we want to deepen the relationship with Microsoft."

Whitman also discussed HP's turnaround plan that she has already detailed for financial analysts. Next year will be HP's "fix and rebuild year," and 2014 should be a year of "accelerated growth."

Rich Kuipers, the CIO of Discount Tire and a user of HP products, said after the presentation that he still has many questions about HP's direction, though he was pleased that Whitman emphasized its security products at the conference.

Kuipers said that since former CEO Mark Hurd left HP, the company has been "just wandering. "In my mind it's still a bit of a wait and see thing," said Kuipers, who added that there's now a little asterisk next to HP's name.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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