Fast Company

Did HP Just Wander Into Apple's Touchscreen iMac Patent Minefield?

HP versus iMac

HP's just revealed an all-in-one PC that's reminiscent of the current iMac, but sports a touchscreen and novel tilting stand. The thing is, it's pretty similar to several patents Apple has protecting the design of future iMacs.

The new HP machines are the TouchSmart 610, aimed at the consumer market, and the TouchSmart 9300 Elite which is aimed at the business scene. Both are all-in-one PCs in the style of Apple's iconic iMac, with a slim body containing all the PC hardware, ports and drives (leveraged from notebook designs so the components are slimmer), mounted on a neat stand so they take up far less desk space than competing designs. But the new machines have 23-inch touchscreen displays--something we've seen on several earlier desktop PC's, although these machines suffered from the awkward user positions needed to interact with the screen: They're great for interactive in-store displays, but holding your arms out ahead of you isn't exactly comfortable.

Enter HP's new stand, which allows the screens of the new PCs to slide down from an upright position to almost flat. HP's pushing this feature like crazy today, and it's referenced in several tech blogs: VentureBeat notes the reclined touchscreen results in a system that reminds them of the famous control panels on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek. The business PC is intended to find use in the workplace, perhaps as a tool for collaborative team work on the same document, and in places like retail counters--Barnes and Noble division Tikatok is reported as being a customer for interactive digital book-building of kids texts.

The thing is, Apple has been looking at a tilting touchscreen all-in-one PC for some time, and has patented several aspects of the technology--including a novel tilting stand that swivels the machine's body downward to enable a more intuitive use of the screen when used in a desktop environment. Apple has imagined many different implementations of the tech, including a hybrid OS that operates as classic OS X when the screen is vertical, and switches to an iOS-style finger-friendly model when the screen is flat.

Has HP wandered into a space that Apple's aggressively patented ahead of what some predict to be a touchscreen make-over for 2011's iMac range? We'll have to see if any other Apple patents surface or if Apple litigates. What this new HP design will do, also, is reignite this whole debate about iMacs and touchscreens--a debate that we last heard of in October 2010 when a spokesman for Sintek Photronics denied rumors it was working on an iMac Touch prototype. But this rumor has persisted for years, and Apple certainly could do with a headline-stealing makeover to one of its products this year since most of its devices will likely get low-key upgrades, and there's not likely to be a limelight-stealing release like the iPad (even the iPad 2 announcement is now rumored to be a low-key affair).

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2 Comments

  • mateo

    Maybe I'm missing the point and forgive me if I am, but touch screens have never been an Apple exclusive. HP has been selling touchscreen computers for a few years now. This is hardly groundbreaking. Adding a swivel stand is only a standard progression. I know FastCo is an Apple Computers cheerleader but come on...

  • Alexander Kwapis

    Alexander Kwapis
    thoughtsondesign.tumblr.com

    Interesting Idea, and although its not an all in one computer I wished the article noted the very cool Cintiq displays from wacom. I always am surprised, although I really shouldn't be, that the masses are unaware of these little gems. Creatives have been using wacom tablets for years and I am very interested to see how tools like cintiq and apples multitouch trackpad will be applied to desktop all in one computers for professionals. Those are the users that will benefit from them the most. I just hope that you don't have to always use your finger cause if I had to have my pointer finger on my screen half as much as I have my hand on my ergonomic mouse I think I would have carpal tunnel of the finger.

    Check out the cintiq in action here: http://bitsy.me/048