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DAY 1 - HP silent on smartphone strategy (for now)

by Stuart Wilson, Tuesday 14 February 2012

Day one of the HP global partner conference in Las Vegas is drawing to a close and the vendor giant has been quick out of the blocks with a number of announcements relating to services, infrastructure and channel-led cloud offerings. On the PSG side, there were inevitable questions regarding HP’s future strategy in the tablet and smartphone product segments, but clear cut answers were thin on the ground. In one press session, Todd Bradley, executive VP of PSG, said: “Right now our focus looking ahead is on Windows 8 tablets. Frankly, we have some strategic work to do on the role we are playing in the smartphone space and we’re not prepared to talk about that.”

HP continues to rebuild trust with its PSG channel following the shock announcement in August 2011 that it planned to stop both its smartphone and tablet product lines and evaluate whether or not to spin off its PC business. This unfortunate episode hastened Leo Apotheker’s departure from HP with Meg Whitman stepping into the CEO hot seat.

At today’s partner conference, speaking during a press session, Bradley added: “Starting last June we looked very aggressively at how we change our product development model. With the consumerisation of IT we need to move towards products that transcend the consumer and commercial space such as the new ultrabooks from HP. There is much more to come in terms of this type of development.”

“In the tablets and ultra-thin space we see an enormous amount of innovation coming out and expect to see Windows 8 tablets [from HP] in the fall,” he continued. “As we recover from the August 18th [2011] announcement you will see our channel grow stronger.”

“I’m not sure we had a strategy shift after August 18th [2011] but it had a major impact on our business. Since then, we are more committed than ever to our hardware business,” commented Bradley. “Clearly we’ve had to recover from some of the misinformation published in the press and supported by our competitors.”

“You will see 2012 as a year of renewed focus and stability from HP with great products, great solutions and continued deep engagement with the channel on how we develop our business in 175 countries,” Bradley concluded.

Speaking earlier in the day, Andre Bodson, VP commercial channel PSG EMEA at HP, also delivered some broad insight into the vendor giant’s 2012 strategy.

“From HP you will see innovation in ultrabooks and movement into new categories with the launch of Windows 8,” said Bodson. “In terms of our market communications we will continue to reinforce the ‘Everybody On’ message. The new challenge in the PC space is around the consumerisation of IT.”

“HP has three major assets: leading products, powerful demand generation and a growth-oriented channel programme,” he added. “In the commercial space, we are working towards inspired PC designs and shapes that are elegant and practical. We are also using uniform advertising messages across EMEA to ensure consistency in the way that HP is branded.”

Bodson added: “In terms of slate products, we will be developing these for Windows 8 but the timeline is not yet clear. In the smartphone space, nothing is planned in the short-term.”

Peter Ryan, senior VP and general manager ESSN EMEA, commenting alongside Bodson, said: “We embrace all smartphone and tablet products and platforms in terms of the technologies and solutions we are offering in the ESSN space.”

CE ANALYSIS: Meg Whitman does not take the stage at HP’s global partner conference until Wednesday morning (day three) and that is unusual. Normally the CEO is first on stage at a vendor channel summit to make sure that everyone stays ‘on message’ for the rest of the event. Channel partners want some clarity on HP’s plans for the tablet and smartphone space – and they want it now. In today’s fast-moving product environment where smartphones and tablets are becoming more important as access devices, HP needs to define its position and fast.

Whether it is partnering with existing smartphone suppliers, or re-entering this market and attempting to build a viable tablet business again, HP needs to set out its agenda. HP is a huge company with operations spanning everything from networking to software and services. The uncertainty and doubt surrounding its smartphone and tablet aspirations are the missing piece in the jigsaw. Maybe Meg has the answers. I guess we will find out on Wednesday.

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