HP' executive Todd Bradley - who many seem to see as a strong internal candidate to replace Mark Hurd as HP - took the stage with TechCrunch's Michael Arrington today at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
Right out of the gate, Arrington wanted to know if he had been named CEO yet. His answer, of course, was no - and there were some chuckles out of the audience about that line of questioning, largely because a CEO announcement is widely anticipated soon.
The on-stage chat largely focused around plans for WebOS, the mobile operating system the company scored when it acquired Palm.
For the moment the company is focused on Palm smartphones like the Pre but has its sights set on tablet PCs and beyond, including Web-based printers. The Pre is what Bradley is carrying around as a personal device these days, replacing a Windows Mobile iPaq he had before. No iPhone in your pocket, Arrington asked?
"There's no iPhone in my life," Bradley replied.
WebOS, which was the real asset in the Palm acquisition, is about more than just the operating system and tools for the developers. What HP is working on is a consistent interface for everything from phones to tablets to other products that utilize an operating system.
But whose products? Why, HP's, of course. Bradley says the have no plans to license the OS but can envision partnerships - notably in software apps - to drive tablet use in verticals.
Arrington and I agreed on this one: That sure does make HP sound a lot like Apple. Arrington asked: "Are you trying to emulate Apple?" Bradley's reply:
We are not trying to emulate Apple. Emulating Apple is not part of our strategy. Emulating Dell or anyone else is not part of our strategy.
HP is a unique company, Bradley said. Years ago, critics suggested that HP go down the path of Dell or IBM but Bradley said that wasn't the right thing for HP, which has a strategy of scale and innovation.
But what about Hurd's cutbacks to R&D and how does the company reply to critics who says that HP is trying to acquire new technologies, instead of building them.
Bradley maintained his position that HP is one of the biggest innovators in technology. "Innovation is an aggressive piece of what we do in labs and in businesses to drive innovation that matters to customers."
One nice little nugget that came at the tail end of the chat: Arrington wanted to know why HP charges so much for ink and put Bradley on the hot seat by asking him to promise, on stage, that if he became CEO, he would slash the price of ink.
The audience applauded - myself included. (I own an HP printer.)
Bradley looked uncomfortable for a moment but managed to back out of the question by highlighting the "enormous quality and work that goes into our printing products."
Sometimes, he said, you only have to go back to that old expression: You get what you pay for.