HP’s ‘Touch’ Just the Tip of Refresh

BERLIN — Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), the world’s biggest computer maker, launched a new generation of touch-screen PCs designed to lift user-friendly computing out of its expensive niche and bring it to a wider market.

The TouchSmart All-in-One allows users to work with photos, music, video, the Internet and television by tapping or swiping the screen, and will be priced at $1,299, HP said at the launch in Berlin on Tuesday.

HP’s Personal Systems group of PCs, notebooks, workstations and handheld devices has transformed itself over the past few years from a largely commoditized volume business to a far more successful one that emphasizes product design.

The group’s executive vice president, Todd Bradley, told Reuters he aimed to set a trend and create a new market.

“We don’t think about this as a niche,” Bradley said in a telephone interview.

“We think about it as a global product that will inspire demand and drive desirability,” he said.

“Our ability to lead is very important,” Bradley added, declining to speculate on what size the market for such PCs might reach.

HP’s announcement came a day after Apple announced a new version of its groundbreaking iPhone, the original version of which brought touch screens to public attention and sparked a host of imitators.

Bradley denied that HP was following Apple, pointing out that HP had been developing touch technology for some time.

But analyst Crawford Del Prete of research firm IDC (NYSE: IDC) said, “I don’t think Apple’s impact can be underestimated.”

Rob Enderle, chief analyst with technology research firm the Enderle Group, said HP’s new products, which include 17 new notebooks, could put it out of the reach of rivals.

“Todd Bradley took a unit that many thought was a liability to HP and turned it into one of HP’s top performers and into segment leadership … to a point where it may not be possible for a competitor to catch it,” he said.

HP Touchscreen

HP’s Touch Screen

Source: HP

The new TouchSmart PCs will launch in 17 countries in July, including the United States, Japan, China, India and Britain.

Its price is higher than the $1,199 starting point for Apple’s iMacs, which do not have a touch screen, although they do have many pioneering features that make manipulating digital media easier.

Del Prete said of HP’s offering, “I think the price point is getting compelling for a premium PC.”

“I think it would be even more attractive if they could get it under a thousand,” he added.

“It requires a set of marketing expertise, and it requires a significant amount of investment,” he said. “An Apple or someone else could do this, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for people who don’t want to invest in the product.”

Del Prete said the HP TouchSmart could appeal to social groups such as families or students sharing an apartment who wanted a PC that could also double as a group message board or television set.

When invited to compare the touch screen interface with the early days of PCs, when users unfamiliar with using a computer mouse used to stab at the monitor with a fingertip, Del Prete said, “Now you point at the screen and something happens.”

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