When it comes to being a leader in the tech industry, how important is the "coolness" factor? Clearly, the iPhone and the iPad are cool products, therefore making Apple a cool company. Android's coolness factor is also on the rise - scoring a few extra points on the coolness scale for Google, as well.
But can HP - an old school tech company right up there with IBM - score some coolness points to drive its popularity among consumers? New CEO Leo Apotheker is pretty sure it can. And to do so, the company is getting ready to generate some buzz with a news event - a la the Apple news events - next month to unveil the work it's done on WebOS, the mobile operating system it scored with its acquisition of Palm.
In an interview with the BBC, Apotheker - former CEO of the ultra cool SAP - said that the days of making an announcement about an upcoming product and then losing that excitement because the product won't ship until months later are over. He told the BBC:
HP will stop making announcements for stuff it doesn't have. When HP makes announcements, it will be getting ready to ship. That's a simple management decision, I don't need to re-engineer the tanker [HP] to do that.
The products being announced on Feb. 9 are expected to go on sale within weeks. We've seen Apple announce those sort of releases with some of its products - but if HP really wanted to be cool, those products would be in stores on the day of the announcement, not weeks later.
But maybe that's too much to ask. Cool companies make the faithful customers camp out in line overnight to get their hands on the new product. Will anyone do that for an HP/Palm product? That may be a lot to expect of a consumer market that largely equates HP with the PC they use at work and the printer they use at home. Those products are important - but they're not cool breakthrough products like the iPod was.
For what it's worth, I was actually impressed with what Palm was doing with WebOS when HP acquired it. The PalmPre had a nice user interface, though I wasn't a huge fan of the hardware itself. And with the resources available to HP, I wondered if some of Palm's consumer success could mix with HP's solid reputation to turn it into a real contender in this space.
But then there was turmoil and drama at HP - the resignation of CEO Mark Hurd, the battle with Oracle over Apotheker and the SAP trial and now a major shakeup on the board of directors. And while all of that was going on, Apple and Google continued to grow their mobile platforms, RIM grabbed some attention with the announcement of the Playbook and even Microsoft managed to launch the new Windows Phone 7.
For some time, the face of HP was just a bunch of lawyers fighting those fights. Now that the attention is shifting to the Feb. 9 announcement, the question that the BBC rightfully asks is: Is Leo Apotheker the right guy to sell HP's coolness?
In the interview, he recognizes that he's not a tech guy or a hardware guy and hasn't been in touch much with consumers. But he does have a sales background - and now, his job is to sell HP. He said:
People change, people learn... I'm now much better educated about the consumer market... My job is to pull it all together and make sure the right people do the right job at the right time. Nobody in the world could be fully across everything that a company with a range like Hewlett Packard does.
In just a couple of weeks, we'll see if Apotheker has what it takes to showcase HP as one of the cool kids on the playground - or just another wannabe.