Global technology company transforms a laptop into a sensorial experience.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Global technology company transforms a laptop into a sensorial experience.

The HP team experimented with leather to determine the perfect thickness for manoeuvrability and bonding with electronic components.

HP, which makes lives better for people everywhere with technology, is on a quest to heighten the appeal of its devices. It makes sense, given the amount of time today’s consumers spend huddled over laptops and smartphones. 

“As lifestyles get more and more digital, we seek out the physical, natural and tactile as a counterbalance,” says Sarah Housley, senior lifestyle and interiors editor at trend forecasting company WGSN, which has been tracking the move towards soft technology for the past eight years. “The tech products we use are under more pressure to be soft and texturally enticing,” she adds. 

At HP, the quest for “more human” technology products started six years ago, when HP’s global head of design, Stacy Wolff, and his team began asking themselves how technological products can pleasure the senses. What is the scent of a computer, for example? 

Says Wolff: “Other than a whiff of ozone, (PCs) generally really don’t have a smell, there is no memory associated with them. It’s pretty cold.

“We wanted something that offered more than that, and that was our mission.” 

The HP design team thus embarked on creating a new class of products to which users can connect emotionally. Their desire to transform the notebook, which often has black plastic or silver covers, led them to experiment with leather instead of futuristic high-tech finishes. While premium leather has been used to make tech accessories – from protective cases for smartphones to laptop covers – a notebook where the leather plays a functional role instead of ornamental is something else altogether.

My Reading Room

The Spectre Folio exemplifies HP’s “One Life” approach to design, where tech products are created to complement lifestyles.

Each HP Spectre Folio laptop is made from one continuous piece of full-grain hide. Countless prototypes were created to determine the perfect thickness of leather to allow for manoeuvrability and bonding with the electronic components. 

Says Wolff: “We had to find the exact thickness of leather that would not only provide the right feel and texture, but also behave in the right way in terms of a hinge.” That magic number turned out to be 0.7mm.

Still, radical changes had to be made. Apart from relooking the entire PC manufacturing process, the design team created a strong but extremely lightweight magnesium skeleton and built the smallest motherboard in the company’s history to turn the leather notebook into reality. 

Craftsmanship was also a crucial consideration. The leather was enhanced with accented stitching and precision edging to provide luxurious finishes. 

The colours, too, were formulated to exude luxury. Available in a cognac brown with a dark ash keyboard, and Bordeaux burgundy with a luminous gold keyboard, the laptops fit right into classic men’s dens, luxury cars and private planes.



My Reading Room

The laptop comes in cognac brown with a dark ash keyboard, and Bordeaux burgundy with a gold keyboard.

Its versatility in positions, meanwhile, ensures that it complements the user’s lifestyle as well as professional requirements. Thanks to 40 magnets embedded in its leather body, the Spectre Folio can open out into a laptop position when serious typing needs to be done; a tent position for media viewing; or a flat-tablet position with a built-in tilt and a stylus for easy sketching. 

Beyond positional flexibility, the computer has 8th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, an innovative, fan-less thermal design that uses the qualities of leather to keep the machine cool, and four front-facing Bang & Olufsen speakers to enhance the mobile movie-watching experience. 

“The HP Spectre Folio is the PC reinvented, achieving the perfect balance of luxury design and cutting-edge engineering,” says Alex Cho, president of personal systems at HP Inc. “By listening to the needs of our customers and leveraging our design and engineering capabilities, HP is setting new benchmarks for the industry.”

The company is not stopping at leather laptops, either. Other materials are in the pipeline, said Wolff at the preview of the Spectre Folio in London last year. He predicted that when consumers see this product, they’re going to feel like they have to have it.

My Reading Room

The computer features the smallest motherboard in HP’s history.

Time will tell, but as technology becomes more prevalent and integrated into everyday life, renowned tech names such as HP have increasingly repositioned themselves as lifestyle brands, embracing design, fashion and other industries to stay relevant to buyers. 

Indeed, Wolff acknowledges that the company does not regard its products as technology designed only for one aspect of a person’s life. Instead, they are conceptualised as lifestyle goods that support the user’s activities throughout the day. HP calls this approach “One Life”. 

Take the company’s app-controlled wireless printer, the HP Tango. With its white body encased in gray felt-flaps, its resemblance to a coffee-table book allows it to take pride of place in any area of the home. It is an example of how, like the Spectre Folio, a well-designed tech product can move seamlessly from work to play, from office to private club, being as useful as it is luxurious.