Short told me that the TopShot product and Sprout were developed in parallel, but they're not closely related: "Same philosophy, different solution and experience," he says.
Having seen both, I can confirm the fundamental differences in approach. The TopShot's overhead camera takes multiple shots to create its 3D-like image. The Sprout, using Intel's RealSense camera, projects different line patterns over the object (it's mesmerizing to watch) and reconstructs what HP calls a "3D snapshot" based on the pixels the camera sees.
Short scanned a few small objects and showed me how you could take, say, an everyday award certificate and scan it, then scan a real prize ribbon or even a flower, and put all those images together to customize the certificate.
The scanned images appeared in the Workspace on the PC's display. Short used a quick, completely intuitive motion that HP (and any human being) calls "flicking" to move images with his finger from the display to the Touch Mat. Once there, he cropped, resized, and moved images to customize the certificate. Workspace will collect images from the Web or imported files, not just scans.
HP also showed me how the Sprout can be used as a collaboration tool. Short set up an image on his Sprout's Touch Mat, while colleagues set up a free app called MyRoom on an HP Android tablet and an adjacent Sprout demo unit. As Short manipulated the image and wrote on his Touch Mat, his colleagues could see what he was doing on their devices. They could also see images of each other, as you would in a traditional conferencing app. "We see Sprout as something to bring people together in an immersive way," said Short.
The Sprout does things no other PC does. That could make it a game-changer — or it could trap the Sprout in a niche. But HP's Monsef says the company is committed to developing the Sprout concept over the long haul. "This is just one product. We have a vision," Monsef promised.
HP is taking a careful approach to launching the Sprout. It plans to seed a few hundred Sprouts to beta users — "makers, techies, educators" is how Monsef described them — so HP can "listen and learn." It's taking preorders for the Sprout's ship date of November 9, and it also plans to set up HP-staffed, in-store Sprout shops in 50 Best Buy stores and 30 Microsoft stores nationwide.
I don't know whether the Sprout will take root (sorry!). But I do know that its invitation to create using our hands merges the virtual and the real in a way that could make computing easier, and perhaps even inspiring.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.