HP CEO Meg Whitman: Don't Call It a Comeback

HP CEO Whitman and the new envelope-pushing HP Z1 workstation share a very LL Cool J style message: We're not back; we never left.

Hewlett-Packard's introduction this week of the Z1, a tower-less, 27-inch display workstation unlike any other in the world, came with a clear message. Lest anyone miss it, HP held an event in Las Vegas this week, alongside its worldwide partner conference, to shine a light on it.

Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay, writing for Forbes, described the Z, "the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of an Apple iMac," as worthy of its own event, though he had his doubts at first. Still, he also discovered, the crowd-pleasing HP CEO Meg Whitman and her message were the real attractions.

"We've got our swagger back, and I hope you do, too," Whitman told channel partners, analysts and others gathered at the event, according to Kay.

"The message to the press and analysts was subtle," Kay added. "Not exactly 'We're back,' it was more like, 'We never left.'"

Despite changes in management, the thud of its tablet efforts and the confusion of whether or not it would sell off its Personal Systems Group, the thinking went, HP's computer makers continued to toil away, and the result€”or hopefully one of the results€”is the envelope-pushing Z1.

While PC makers have been gaining in imagination and craftsmanship, HP has been losing market share, according to research firms such as Gartner. By the latter's count, HP's fourth-quarter 2011 market share was down nearly three points from a year ago, as year-over-year growth fell by 16.2 percent. Meanwhile, Lenovo€”with its "protect and attack" strategy€”has been fast gaining on HP's heels, posting 23 percent year-on-year growth during the fourth quarter and boosting market share to 14 percent, from just over 11 percent a year ago.

Even Dell, the third-ranking global player, posted 7.8 percent year-on-year growth. Apple, the third-ranking player in the U.S. market, behind HP and Dell, respectively, posted 20.7 percent growth during the quarter, making it the only vendor in the top five to post positive growth. Research firm Canalys, which includes tablet shipments in its PC totals, tells an even sadder story for HP€”and a much happier one for the iPad-shipping Apple.

On. Feb. 22, HP will announce its latest earnings. According to the Wall St. Cheat Sheet, average analysts estimates are for a profit decline of 36 percent, compared with actual earnings a year ago. In the last three months, the average estimate has lowered, but "it has been unchanged at 87 cents during the last month."

Whitman's replacement of Leo Apotheker, her likability, her message and the products beginning to come out of HP may be the beginning of something new€”or of the old HP, as the company suggested.

"Optimism surrounds Hewlett-Packard Company," writes the Cheat Sheet, "as nine analysts rate it as a buy, six rate it as a sell and 12 rate it as a hold."

Street Insider, reporting on comments from analysts with investment firm Jefferies, likewise published Feb. 15: "We believe both Dell and HPQ had solid quarters relative to their guidance ... The worst-case scenario ... now appears unlikely. We expect relatively optimistic guidance from Dell and HP."