Getting in “touch” with H-P’s new notebook

By Jessica Shambora

Hewlett-Packard’s rosy earnings preview relieved tech-watchers who are both reeling from Intel’s gloomy results and anxiously awaiting Dell’s third-quarter numbers tomorrow. More positive news from H

P: the introduction of the TouchSmart tx2 Notebook.

The compact new computer, launching today and selling for $1,150 on, is a bellwether of touch technology’s penetration into our lives. “A year ago no one knew what this meant,” HP’s Phil McKinney said when he demo’ed the TouchSmart Notebook here at Fortune last month. Pinching and pulling apart his fingers in the air, he told us, “Thanks to the iPhone, now everyone understands this is how you zoom in on an image.”

McKinney, chief technical officer of HP’s Personal Systems Group, dropped by with an arsenal of new computers, including the Mini 1000, a netbook that I wrote about in a recent post.

Of course, Apple is the “touch” leader with its iPhone and iPod Touch. But actually, HP was the first to pioneer the touch technology in a PC, with the HP-150 PC in 1983. The idea just didn’t catch on, McKinney said. Now, thanks to Apple and brilliant marketing as well as design, America has gotten the feel of “touch.”

But launching touch products abroad will be trickier. That’s because in many cultures, pointing with one finger isn’t socially acceptable. So HP is looking at developing technology that allow users to touch the screen with the first and second finger together. Sort of like the two-fingered “Disney Point” that you see Disney theme park employees using to avoid offending international visitors, McKinney said.

With its new notebook, HP is building on innovation introduced in its TouchSmart desktop PC in 2007. The notebook also includes HP’s MediaSmart software. This allows users to view photos, listen to music, surf the Net or watch movies in high-definition, while bypassing Microsoft’s Vista interface. The screen is on a hinge that twists, allowing you to fold it down face up like a tablet and write on it with a digital pen.

Touch is a fit for the notebook, taking the small, irritating track pad out of the equation. My only complaint is seeing my fingerprints smeared across the shiny screen. That’s a problem I have with my iPhone too. I suspect that the folks at HP – and Steve Jobs too – have “screen-smudge eradication” on their list of innovations to do.

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