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New HP CEO Apotheker lays out vision

In his first official public appearance before the press, Leo Apotheker says Hewlett-Packard is "strong, but the world is changing." HP will focus on cloud services and connected devices in the future.

HP CEO Leo Apotheker
HP CEO Leo Apotheker HP

SAN FRANCISCO--In his first official appearance before the technology press and analysts since becoming CEO last fall, Leo Apotheker today illustrated his vision for Hewlett-Packard's future.

HP will focus on three areas in the future: cloud services, connectivity among devices, and software, he said on stage at the Yerba Buena Theater here. "Our vision is to provide seamless, secure, context-aware experiences for a connected world."

Apotheker said he was able to articulate this strategy after reviewing the company internally over the past four and a half months. "In that time I've been rolling up my sleeves, digging into the business, meeting with customers, partners, and some investors," he said. While he found "extraordinary strength," he said he also identified some areas "that need additional strategic focus." Most of the focus will be on increasing growth in the enterprise world.

A new area of emphasis for HP will be "big data." The acquisition of Vertica, which is set to close soon, is a good indicator of where HP is headed, Apotheker said. The company will introduce an HP-branded analytics appliance "very, very quickly" to help its enterprise customers with real-time analytics of business intelligence, like tracking components, supplies, Web browsing data, and more. HP says it will help customers get information faster to in turn help make strategic decisions more quickly.

The new vision is a broader, more detailed version of Apotheker's initial assessment of the companywhen he joined last fall. He said then that better software and services were needed for HP to be successful in the new world of IT.

"HP is strong, but we also recognize that the world is changing faster around us," he said. He pointed to the pace of technological change in the consumer world, and said it needs to apply to the world of enterprise technology too.

As part of that, HP will also be opening an app store for business software and applications, he said. It will be "open," and won't be confined to HP's own applications.

One thing he says that won't change is people's preference to do work on PCs. In a subtle nod to the "post-PC" meme started by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the iPad 2 event last month, Apotheker said today "HP ships two PCs and two printers a second. That gives us an enormous install base that is going to grow. The fact is, people like working on PCs and that isn't going to go away."

Besides smartphones and tablets, pictured here, HP plans to extend WebOS to PCs and other devices.
Besides smartphones and tablets, pictured here, HP plans to extend WebOS to PCs and other devices. James Martin/CNET

Connecting PCs, with newer devices like tablets and smartphones, as well as Web-connected printers is a major part of Apotheker's overall vision. He pictures an "HP cloud" that can be accessed by Windows PCs, WebOS tablets, phones, and printers so customers in the enterprise and consumer worlds can get to their information from many different access points.

Apotheker last week said HP would be including WebOS on all Windows PCs starting next year. Today HP expanded on that, saying it plans to deliver 100 million WebOS-enabled devices per year--on PCs, tablets, phones, and printers. There will be a version of WebOS accessible from the browser for PCs by the end of the year, Apotheker said.

But HP says it isn't attempting to displace Windows. "To be absolutely clear, Microsoft is a great partner and will continue to be a great partner. WebOS enables them to take advantage of the Microsoft ecosystem," he said during a Q&A with the press later. HP will continue to ship Windows PCs and tablets, he clarified.

In his first chance to display his leadership of HP, Apotheker was able to lay out his priorities and ideas to grow the company and increase profits. And he didn't do it in a way that might scare investors by calling for drastic change--his addition of WebOS to PCs and not in place of Windows being a prime example.

Apotheker's strategy also sticks to some safe-bet trends in technology, like cloud services and connected devices, which should keep a huge (and sometimes slow-moving) company like HP in step with what its customers want right now or are going to want very soon.

But his belief that HP can outpace companies already entrenched in some of these areas--Amazon in cloud services, Apple in connected devices--are rather bold, and the main criticism of his performance today is that he didn't get into a lot of specific details as to how HP would climb to the top of areas of businesses like services and software under this new plan.

For example, the idea of an HP cloud being a platform and a service was oft-repeated today, but Apotheker didn't say much about when it would be ready. He pegged its arrival sometime between 2011 and 2012, and said some of the software would come out of HP itself, and some from partners, though he didn't mention names.

The consensus was that what investors really wanted to hear today was direction for HP and confidence in a plan. We got both today. HP's stock was inched up 20 cents to $41.69 in after-hours trading today, but we probably will get a better picture of how convinced of his plans investors are when the market opens tomorrow.

This post was last expanded at 4:55 p.m. PT.