Personal computers: See me, touch me

HP tries to add a little bit of Apple’s flair to its latest TouchSmart PC.

The ubiquitous computer mouse has its limits, as anyone who has struggled to point-and-click on just the right link can attest. But specialty — and clunky — touch screens haven’t won over general users, either.

Now, Hewlett-Packard is trying to apply Apple’s elegant iPhone interface to desktop computers. In January, it unveiled the dx9000, the latest in its line of TouchSmart PCs launched last year, and it targets businesses, particularly small ones, as well as the retail, health-care, hospitality and education markets. The dx9000 is no average PC. Its guts are integrated into a shiny-black high-definition 22-inch widescreen LCD display. The computer’s touch screen is always active, but it’s best used with HP’s TouchSmart software, which runs on top of the Microsoft Vista operating system and replaces the Windows-based desktop. But exit TouchSmart to, say, use an Office program, and everything works as you’d expect on a PC, except that you can now select menus with your finger. Unfortunately, most icons and graphical buttons are still too small, and the screen’s sensors are not precise enough to avoid the occasional misfire.

On the other hand, the TouchSmart software organizes applications in two horizontal rows of tiles — large icons for frequently used apps, smaller ones for everything else — which can be scrolled with a swipe of the finger. The tiles are dynamic, showing current status and content for the browser, RSS feeds, video and audio players, calendar, weather, photo software. What’s missing are the business applications, which need to be custom-made for a company’s specific use.

This is a touch-screen technology waiting to find a purpose. Maybe that’s why HP couldn’t quite give up on the mouse — even the TouchSmart comes with a wireless one.

Hardware: 22-inch high-def monitor with integrated webcam, dual-array microphone.
Peripherals: wireless keyboard and mouse
Operating system: Windows Vista Business 64
Performance: up to 4 GB 800 MHz
Price: $1,749 (MSRP)