HP this week unveiled two sleek and consumer-friendly touch-screen desktop computers that are set to hit retail stores in July. HP had last year introduced its first TouchSmart computer, but most agree it was a first-generation market test.
The newest versions are designer icons with bigger, yet flatter screens, much-improved software and a better overall consumer experience. Another sign of a push for a touch revolution by HP is its own stepped-up hype. John Cook, VP-marketing of HP's consumer PC business, declared in a news release, "We're changing personal computing from just feeds and speeds to an experience influenced by consumer trends and design that anticipates customers' needs. "
He added, "The HP TouchSmart PC is all about reinventing the personal computer experience."
Is that so? So far there has been lots of applause from analysts, but the media and consumers are decidedly more subdued in their response.
"If Apple had said we have a touch-screen iMac, I have a feeling the media would have exploded over it," said Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder, who used the original TouchSmart and lauds the vast improvements in the second-generation computer.
How new is this, really?
Some of the skepticism may be from past experience. Not just with HP's original 17-month-old TouchScreen, but also with tablet computers that have touch-like capabilities using a stylus, which have been around for years and haven't exactly sent sales skyrocketing.
The pricing of the units -- $1,299, and $1,499 for one with a TV tuner -- may also still be an adoption barrier, with premium desktops available in the $1,000 or lower range, said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates. But while he doesn't think sales of TouchSmart PCs will have a huge revenue impact just yet, he does agree that touch is important to the future of the PC category, as well as the whole tech sector. Nintendo, for example, figured that out already as it continues to blast monthly sales numbers with its one-of-a-kind touch-screen handheld DS.
HP did not reveal its marketing plans for the TouchSmart PCs, but it is expected the promotion will be more aggressive with this generation. Already the company is running a contest on its web home page for consumers to win TouchSmarts, pushed by the tagline "The computer as you've never felt it before," notably written in the same distinctive font as all its other recent PC ads (under "The PC Is Personal Again" umbrella). Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is HP's agency.
Getting it right
Mr. Gownder said design and user experience will play a large role in adoption, and this version seems to get both right. HP has learned not only from the white-hot popularity of Apple's iPhone with its touch-screen, but also the gangbuster sales and adoption of Nintendo's Wii video-game console, he said.
"If a product can bring people together to work or play in a collaborative way ... it creates an added social value, and that's where it gets interesting," he said. "The Wii radically changed the relationship people have with gaming. Similarly, touch-screen has the ability to do the same in the PC market."
The TouchSmart falls into the emerging all-in-one desktop category -- that is, computers with the hard drive and working mechanisms all located within the screen. That's an important distinction, because while desktop sales continue to fall, all-in-ones are "the one bright spot" in that moribund category, Mr. Kay said.
HP will still need to throw its marketing weight behind the TouchSmart in targeting buyers, expected to be families with above-average income and technology ownership levels, with more than one PC already in the home.
"Touch is not in and of itself going to be the end of the competition," Mr. Gownder said. But "what's cool is the form factor, the attractive experience and the price point, which all set it up for much more success."