Aiming for Innovation, HP Fails for Usual Reasons

HP's TouchSmart does away with the mouse.
HP's TouchSmart does away with the mouse. (Hewlett-packard)
By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, March 1, 2007

For all its public devotion to innovation, the computer industry has been unwilling to break one rule -- it takes a keyboard and mouse to use a home computer.

But Hewlett-Packard is throwing that principle aside -- along with a few others -- in its new TouchSmart IQ770 desktop. This computer's screen responds to the touch of your finger.

This is an overdue development. Science fiction, from "Star Trek" to "Star Wars," has taught us to tap the screen of a computer to make things happen -- a lesson reinforced by the touch-sensitive screens we use daily at ATMs, gas pumps and airport check-in kiosks.

But the $1,800 TouchSmart doesn't just allow its users to do what comes naturally.

It also tries to replace the kitchen bulletin board, as well as the TV and stereo.

And its all-in-one design, thanks to its WiFi receiver and wireless keyboard and mouse, requires plugging in only one cable.

These other capabilities make the TouchSmart an extremely ambitious creation -- the latest in a series of occasional, often unsuccessful attempts to build a computer that doesn't look or act like a regular PC. Many firms have tried this, but only Apple has made a mass market out of it.

HP's worthy but unsuccessful experiment sinks for the usual reasons. It costs too much and runs too slowly. And its surface ease-of-use is not matched by the Windows Vista software underneath.

HP should have stopped with the touch screen.

Unlike the displays of tablet PC laptops, which require you to tap with a special stylus, the TouchSmart lets you use your fingertip.

Strictly speaking, you don't even have to touch this 19-inch LCD because it detects your finger from an eighth of an inch or so away. Even right-clicking works: Hover a fingertip over the screen for a moment, and the right-click menu will pop open.

The whole experience is oddly soothing, even if it does demand regular screen cleanings.

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