HP Sprouts an Interesting New PC

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Last week, HP launched a very interesting Windows PC named “Sprout.” It features a touchscreen monitor with an arm reaching out over the top. The arm contains both a projector and a scanner pointing down onto a mat that comes with the PC. This effectively turns the mat into another touchscreen, which can display a tablet-like keyboard. The computer can also make 3D scans from objects placed on the mat, and load them into special programs on the PC.

Various other players have researched and even released technologies like these over the last couple of years, but none has really brought all of this together in one consumer-facing package like this. The emphasis here seems to be on creation – very little in the promotional materials highlights common office work like creating financial spreadsheets or typing up long legal documents. Sprout is centered on creativity and design, and in that sense, it is trying to chip away at Apple as the device of choice for artistic creators.

At the $1,899 price point, it seems like a good value considering you get a 3D scanner out of the box. And it is a Windows computer after all, so you can run everything a Windows PC can run. HP is showcasing it in Best Buy as well, which is a bold stab at taking this technology mainstream. The 3D scanning capability is clearly a nod to a synergy with 3D printing. And it’s hard not to imagine a 3D printer sitting gracefully alongside Sprout. That said, 3D printing itself is not widely mainstream yet for a variety of reasons, including price and the technical know-how involved. In that sense, Sprout is, in part, HP’s stake in the ground, declaring that they are getting out in front of this trend.

The biggest hurdle HP will have to surmount for more widespread adoption is encouraging the development of a robust third-party app community. They’ll need to have a good deal of developers not just porting apps from other contexts, but creating apps that take the best advantage of the device. Set against the iOS and Android developer communities, this will be difficult. But at least what they have going for them is a tool aimed in part at the same sorts of people who make apps in the first place.

One thing I doubt HP has to worry about competition-wise is Apple. As we’ve seen with NFC, Apple will likely take their sweet time incorporating technologies like this into their hardware. Apple waits for others to make the first move, and then perhaps years later, they come in with their own slick take. Sometimes they overtake the first-movers, sometimes they don’t.

The bottom line for agencies and brands is to take note that this type of technology exists and may one day be in many homes and offices. This would open up a new palette of creative interactions that brands could develop as they reach people on their Sprout (or Sprout-like) computers.

In the short term, this could be a very interesting technology for deployment in kiosks. For example, in a retail setting, a kiosk with a Sprout embedded in it could offer shoppers extraordinary abilities to interact with inventory in exciting ways, opening up new opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. The scanning capabilities could be used for color and pattern matching.

Time will tell how widely adopted Sprout becomes. But it’s a good sign for the advancement of computing in general that a company like HP has gotten behind multi-touch and 3D scanning and is marketing a PC with these capabilities to consumers.