by Jerry Jackson
While attending HP's "Connecting Your World" media summit in Berlin, it became increasingly clear that HP has some big plans for consumer and business computing solutions in 2008. So just what does HP have to offer? How about luxury notebooks, innovative consumer designs, rugged business notebooks, and AMD processors? If that doesn't get you excited, how about a Kung Fu Panda and computerized rings that hold your personal information?
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We've already covered a number of the new product announcements, and we'll be bringing you full, in-depth reviews in the coming weeks. Since I've spent the last two days in Berlin speaking with HP (and almost getting deported for trying to run benchmarks on a display notebook) I decided that our audience might like an "insider's guide" to some of the big new trends HP is showcasing in Berlin.
Shiny Metal Is Your Friend
As discussed in the news stories earlier today, HP announced multiple notebooks in the HP Compaq business line, Compaq Presario, and HP Pavilion consumer lines. What is more interesting is the trend toward glossy metal chassis designs. Whether it's the new liquid-metalic Mesh Imprint finish and "magical chrome" touch controls on the Pavilion notebooks, the flush-glass displays, or the brushed aluminum and magnesium alloy chassis designs on the business notebooks, all of HP's new laptops have a sleek new look that will surely please many consumers (and may offend people with more conservative, ThinkPad brick-loving tastes).
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While the look might not immediately appeal to everyone, durability will. The new Imprint Finish is more rugged than ever, easily withstanding scratches and (despite the polished surface) making fingerprint smudges less noticeable. The HP Compaq business notebooks such as the new HP EliteBook feature amazingly durable construction that won't even scratch when exposed to steel wool (something I witnessed first hand).
AMD Is A Trusted Partner ... Now More Than Ever
The event in Berlin is all about HP's newest innovations, but one of the most visible business partners at the event was none other than AMD. HP has a long history of offering AMD-based solutions for both notebooks and desktops, even as some competitors switched exclusively to Intel. Now that AMD's new "Puma" platform and Turion Ultra processors are available, HP and AMD are positioned to become the market leader in notebook solutions for the back-to-school season in 2008. Of course, the fact that Intel pushed back the delivery dates for their new "Montevina" platform has significantly helped AMD as notebook manufacturers still need to bring laptops to market in time for back-to-school shoppers.
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AMD's new line of processors and ATI-branded graphics solutions offer a new level of performance we simply haven't seen from the previous generation AMD processors. The ability to dynamically switch between dedicated and integrated graphics to help extend battery life is simply amazing. Add to that the fact that more and more notebook makers (not just HP) are going to be offering AMD notebooks with high-end configurations ... not just low-priced budget systems with weak integrated graphics and slow hard drives.
You could say this might just be the summer of AMD, but if Puma meets the expectations of consumers this year then 2008 might just be a new dawn for AMD and an opportunity to become the processor brand that everyone wants.
"Luxury" Doesn't Mean High-End Gaming
One of the big surprises in Berlin was the new Envy notebook from HP's Voodoo division. Voodoo has a history of making some of the best (and most expensive) desktops and laptops for gaming enthusiasts. Voodoo will continue offering powerful gaming solutions in the future, but HP and Voodoo are working to make the Voodoo brand synonymous with "luxury."
In short, Voodoo will begin offering a wide range of high-end computing solutions that are targeted at consumers who want "the best" ... but don't necessarily care about gaming. The new 13-inch Voodoo Envy 133 weighs in at just 3.4 pounds and is an amazingly thin and sexy design that offers a similar form factor as the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and Apple MacBook Air. The difference with the Envy is that this notebook looks and feels cooler.
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That said, like the other ultra-thin notebooks on the market, the Envy 133 uses integrated graphics. In fact, the Envy on display in Berlin was loaded with standard Intel X3100 integrated graphics similar to any budget notebook currently on the market. The Envy offers superior style, build quality, mobility, and a ton of other creative features despite the lack of a high-end graphics card.
We'll have more on the Envy 133 coming soon, but in the meantime you might as well get used to the idea that "luxury" goods don't always mean "gaming" goods.
Hard Drives Stink ... But So Do SSDs
Both the consumer and business sides of HP were quick to comment on the fact that Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology continues to be a problem for the notebook industry because the moving parts inside a HDD have to be protected from damage due to impact and vibration. HP's solution for 2008 is to roll out "3D Drive Guard" technology into all HP notebooks. 3D Drive Guard is essentially a 3D accelerometer that detects motion and parks your HDD so impact or vibration doesn't damage the drive and the precious data it contains. 3D Drive Guard also detects when the notebook lid is closed and when the notebook has been lifted, and uses those two actions as an indication that the HDD should be parked to prevent damage.
Of course, a better solution might be Solid State Drive (SSD) technology which relies on flash memory for storage. SSDs have no moving parts and are amazingly resistant to damage from impact and vibration. While HP does make SSDs available in many business notebooks and high-end consumer notebooks, HP is aware that SSD technology needs more time to evolve.
As Ted Clark from from HP's Comercial and Consumer Notebook Unit said, "the value proposition for SSDs simply isn't there at the moment. Capacities are too low and prices are too high." In truth, Mr. Clark is dead-on accurate with his statement. While SSD technology has a lot to offer the world of notebooks, until storage capacities increase and prices decrease we just won't see widespread adoption from consumers and businesses.
Touch Is King ... But Not For Notebooks (Yet)
One of the stars of the Berlin product announcements was the new HP TouchSmart IQ500 desktop PC. While this all-in-one desktop isn't a laptop, it does introduce the world to HP's vision of the future of computer interfaces: multi-touch on-screen control. Simply point with your finger and touch the screen where you want something to happen. The mouse is now a useless relic from the 20th century.
Unfortunately, we won't be seeing the all-new TouchSmart interface in HP notebooks any time this year. While many HP tablet PCs such as the consumer-friendly tx2000 and tx2500 feature touch screen technology, the innovative multi-touch technology behind HP's TouchSmart requires hardware that cannot fit inside a notebook ... unless you want a notebook with a screen lid that's almost two inches thick (and a chassis that's at least another inch thick as well).
HP is commited to making the user experience as visually engaging as possible, and TouchSmart will likely become increasingly important to HP desktop solutions. Unfortunately, notebook users are going to have to wait for this technology in HP notebooks.
HP And Hollywood: A Match Made In Digital Heaven
In addition to AMD, the second most involved business partner at the Connecting Your World media summit was Dreamworks Entertainment. A number of years ago Dreamworks made the transition from Apple computers to HP computers because HP showed a commitment to meeting (and exceeding) the demands from the studio. Dreamworks makes two digitally animated feature films every year and 100 percent of those films are made on HP computers.
HP is quick to praise the demanding folks at Dreamworks for pushing HP to tackle new hardware and software problems and helping HP to develop innovative solutions. Dreamworks currently utilizes enough HP computing power that when the Dreamworks systems are linked they rank as one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. As HP and Dreamworks explained, this level of computing power (and demands for more) will only increase next year as all future Dreamworks films are released in 3D ... requiring twice the rendering time as current films.
The big news from Dreamworks was their collaboration with HP in developing the new HP DreamColor LP2480zx ... the first LCD to exceed the color fidelity of traditional CRT monitors with 30-bit color (1 billion colors). Dreamworks was actually using old CRT monitors for all color-critical work because current LCD technology wasn't good enough. The new DreamColor display is simply stunning and although the price ($4,000) is currently too high for most consumers, HP feels confident this display technology will eventually move to consumer-priced LCDs.
The Future's So Bright You Need Printed Shades
At the conclusion of Tuesday's product announcements, Phil McKinney, VP and Chief Technology Officer for the Personal Systems Group at HP, gave an interesting presentation on trends in the marketplace ... and what HP thinks consumers will be doing with computers in the year 2030.
Without quoting the entire presentation, McKinney believes that network connectivity will become more widespread (to the point that you are always connected to the Internet), virtual communities and collaboration will become more widespread, and that "cognitive devices" (computers and accessories that adapt to the user rather than the user adapting to them) will be everywhere.
One such solution on display was a mock-up of what HP calls "wearable data managers." These are essentially computers inside rings that function like a smartphone but also contain siginificant amounts of personal information and personal preferences. The idea is that as soon as you walk up to any computer, the computer interfaces with the rings on your fingers and creates the ideal work environment for you (customized desktop, favorites, access to files, contact list, etc. Basically, any computer can become your personal computer because the most important information is with you at all times.
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Another interesting concept on display was the "volume printer." Since virtual collaboration is becoming increasingly important it becomes even more important for people around the world to work together digitally ... but with three-dimensional interaction as well. HP's concept is a printer that can "print" solid matter out of a type of resin based on input from another printer. Put a pair of sunglasses on the printer in New York and an identical pair of sunglasses is created on a printer in Hong Kong. It's not the teleporter from Star Trek, but wow.
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In short, HP had a lot of new product announcements in Berlin this week but some of the most interesting news is only visible if you read between the lines in the press releases. Needless to say, we're very interested in what the #1 notebook manufacturer in the world has to say and show us, and we think there's a lot for consumers and businesses to be excited about as well.
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