Hewlett-Packard was once an iconic and defining Silicon Valley company. That time seems long passed. I mostly only think of them today when I'm forced to download a printer driver for one of their many printers (I just counted 79 models on sale on their website).
Unexpectedly – at least for me and any tech publications I follow – they just announced a desktop computer that's trying to rethink what a creative PC should be (they sometimes call it a "creativity station" which is rather charming).
Meet the HP Sprout.
It's clear from the moment you see it, and its 'missing' keyboard, that this is something different.
A strange projector loops above a touchscreen display, peering beneath to a keyboard-replacing mat that both receives a projected image, and lets users interact with it via capacative sensors.
I was intrigued.
Some details from The Verge:
The projector itself hangs over the top of the all-in-one like a desk lamp and it’s equipped with a 4-camera system thanks to Intel’s RealSense 3D camera, a 14.6-megapixel high-resolution camera, a HP DLP projector, and an LED desk lamp. The system will let people scan and manipulate 2D and 3D objects directly into the PC, and you can even use a stylus to draw on the touch mat and move scanned objects around. You can type onto the mat with a software keyboard projected on your fingers within touch-optimized apps, and the majority of interactivity starts with the mat.
None of this technology is totally new, but by packaging it together and presented it as a creativity device, HP are doing something pretty unique. Re-packaging existing technology into something people understand has worked wonders for Apple, could this be HP's turn?
Headlines about it bridging the physical and virtual worlds got me excited, but that bridge is really about 3D scanning. Input-wise it doubles down on touchscreens. This might make sense for a range of tasks, but the limitations of touchscreens persist and perhaps compound when this type of input becomes so all-encompassing. It's definitely interesting to see such interfaces breking well beyond the bound of mobile form factors though, and getting space to breath. Still – my reservations about delicately manipulating objects, or developing muscle memory, are not quelled.
Some interesting commentary here: What Futurists Think Of HP's Bold And Weird New PC. Tending to agree with the critics in applauding HP for its bold risk-taking, but holding doubts about the product focus.
Until I try it, however, judgement = reserved.