Crafting a new computer is tough. Everyone loves touch - fingers are winning interfaces. But pawing an upright monitor is physically tiring. So? HP's design team cleverly brought the monitor down to you. And we've got their concept sketches.
HP computer design guru Randall Martin walked us through the process. They know that their old TouchSmart form factor - the kiosk style reach-and-tap, wasn't sustainable. It was a nightmare on elbows, and just sort of felt wrong. I'm fine pointing away like that at an ATM, or when buying movie tickets - but checking the news, or writing an essay? Unbearable. Our bodies aren't meant to work that way, as much as our hands want to drag and pinch and swipe. But the convergence of our hands and our computers is, more than inevitable, well on their way. The desktop is the next stop. But it has to stop sucking. HP's new TouchSmart series is mostly unremarkable as an actual computer—the software is sloppy, the specs are a desktop jammed into a chunky slice, and the touchscreen itself is wonky and inaccurate. But they've nailed one thing - design. And not looks. It's face is as unremarkable as its guts. But the TouchSmart's new ability to slide - gracefully - 60 degrees down into a tabletop position is brilliant, and the only hope of the touch desktop, if it has any future at all.
Martin explained how crucial it was to nail the swivel mechanism - which they have - should anyone take advantage of it. They wanted a screen that could serve you well while it's standing (for, say, writing a long email via keyboard), but could transform itself into something you could share with your friends, way down low. How do we look at photos? How do we enjoy books? They aren't held up to our noses, like a kindergarten teacher reading aloud to class - we put these things down on a table, or on our laps. So it had to swivel. But it also had to stand strong. The ideal mechanism would put up with vigorous touch input without collapsing onto itself, but would still slide downward without labour.
So they drew. And drew. And drew. And rendered. They toyed with stands that contained the computer's components, stands with the lamp's base, and stands that mimicked a scorpion. The result is a base that maintains both the solidity we expect from an all-in-one desktop, with the agility we expect from this mutant machine we're just seeing for the first time. When crouched, it's not a tablet, it's not a desktop, and it's not a laptop. We're not sure how people are going to use it - probably not in the way that HP imagines, and certainly not in the way their current mediocre touch software allows. But HP's willingness to create a whole new beast that contorts itself to be friends with our hands - that's something we love to see. A computer's design shouldn't have anything to do with some new metallic finish - it should be devoted to making the best tool for people possible. The HP TouchSmart sure has its serious flaws - but if the attention to software ever follows the attention to form we've seen here, it might just be sliding forward into computer history.