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HP notebooks get spring makeover

Company spruces up its laptop lineup as more and more PC makers recognize the importance of design. Photos: New looks for HP

SAN FRANCISCO--Hewlett-Packard is betting that people are sick of dull-looking laptops.

The company unveiled seven new notebooks at a press conference here Tuesday as part of a major refresh of the industrial design of its products. The notebooks will be accompanied by an ad campaign that tells potential customers "the computer is personal again."

HP laptops

"This is a recognition of how important (industrial design) is in making these products personal," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said in an interview with CNET following the press conference, which was part of HP's Mobility Summit. "It's one of many things we use to differentiate ourselves."

Notebook PCs have been the primary engine for PC growth over the past few years. Until recently, buyers have been focused on ever-falling prices and new technology features such as Wi-Fi chips, not paying as much attention to design. But now that notebook use is much more common, style and form are becoming increasingly important for mass-market vendors such as HP.

One example of HP's increased focus on design and style could be seen in the new consumer notebooks introduced Tuesday. The Pavilion dv2000 is unremarkable from a configuration standpoint, with a 14.1-inch wide-screen display and support for Intel's current Core Duo processors and AMD's upcoming Turion X2 dual-core chips. But it comes with a glossy finish that imprints wavy lines on the notebook's lid. The look was created by Nissha Film Products, a Japanese company that makes stylish covers for mobile phones and the interiors of luxury cars.

The design may not be quite as colorful as those on laptops with custom paint jobs, but it brings a subtle touch of style to the notebook, said Ted Clark, senior vice president and general manager for HP's notebook group.

More than just looks
However, industrial design is more than just looks, said John Dayan, HP's vice president of marketing. It involves considerations such as weight, durability and ergonomics, factors important to both home and business users, he said. Apple Computer has undoubtedly had an influence on the PC world with its notebook designs, which aren't flashy but make a statement nonetheless, said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst with IDC.

HP will be rolling out products across its notebook lineup that use a standard design on such features as the placement of the on/off button and the latches on the notebook's lid, Dayan said.

HP is taking a cue from products such as the ThinkPad, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis. For a long time, ThinkPads were available in nothing but basic black, although Lenovo, which purchased ThinkPad maker IBM, is experimenting with a titanium finish. But corporations and owners loved them because they were durable, easy to use and professional looking, he said.

One thing HP doesn't have is a so-called "halo product," the PC equivalent of a concept car that doesn't sell in large volumes but draws consumers to the brand, Bhavnani said. Dell has its XPS products and Toshiba has its Qosmio laptops, but HP doesn't really have an equivalent product, he said.

HP is trying to appeal to a mass audience with its new notebooks, Dayan said. It has avoided targeting specific niches like gamers, the model customer for Dell's XPS products, to try and reach as many possible customers as it can, he said.

And while the company's new industrial designs aren't nearly as flashy as systems from Alienware, Voodoo PC, Acer or even the XPS systems, a personalized experience involves more than just looks, Dayan said. HP is trying to personalize every part of the PC experience, from shopping to setup to support, he said.

"We think people do look to large companies (for a personal touch) if the products are right," Dayan said. Boutique PC makers like Alienware, Voodoo and Falcon Northwest will always attract certain types of buyers, but those companies can't provide the retail and support experience that HP can, according to Dayan.

"You're going to see a lot more focus on form factor in general" from all PC companies over the rest of the year, IDC's O'Donnell said. HP's announcement is only the start of a huge focus on new industrial designs throughout its products this year, said Bruce Greenwood, HP's director of product marketing for consumer notebooks.