Hardware for a Facebook world

Last week, BusinessWeek’s tech team got a visit from Phil McKinney, the CTO of HP’s personal systems group. As we were groping and gawking at a collection of sleek new notebooks and netbooks, McKinney said something I’ve never heard from a computer maker before: the advent of online social networking is changing the way hardware is designed.

Not too long ago, the most traveling people did with laptops was from the bed to the couch, McKinney notes. Now, they are addicted to updates on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and that’s factoring into their decision to take PCs with them to more places. That trend has led HP to make computers that are lighter and smaller, but it’s also influencing less obvious design choices, like extending battery life or arming customers with a replaceable battery for extra-long outings.

That got me thinking: What other products are being designed with rabid social networkers in mind? Certainly, a variety of gadgets have begun building tweets and status updates right into their screens, like Microsoft Xbox’s new Facebook integration and the Yahoo-created Twitter widget that ships with some LG, Vizio, and Samsung TVs. A new feature on Apple’s new iPhone 3.0 software that allows the devices to communicate with each other wirelessly also comes to mind.

But what about less tech-centric products? I can think of only a few examples. In March, GM was rumored to be planning a voice-powered Twitter feature into its OnStar system (the company hasn’t released the feature or commented). Nike built its own social network, Nike+, around a line of shoes that let wearers upload data about their jogs. And every day, it seems someone has wired some new inanimate object to send semi-useful updates over Twitter (e.g. plants that ask to be watered, the London Tower Bridge feed).

How about even plainer objects, like chairs and lamps? Are they safe from our social networking obsession?

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