The nascent smartbook market got a big nudge forward on Friday, courtesy of Hewlett-Packard, the world’s biggest personal computer maker.

Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP’s PC division, turned up on stage at the Consumer Electronics Show during a keynote address by Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs to demo a device based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip and running Google’s mobile Android software.

There was no formal product unveiling, but HP showed off a smartbook with multitouch capability, and Bradley spoke with apparent interest on the category, which is just beginning to build steam.

“We’re not going to make any announcement today but you know how interested and focused and frankly committed we are to this space,” Bradley said.

Smartbooks run on low-power ARM-based processors like Snapdragon or Nvidia’s Tegra, as opposed to netbooks, which run on Intel’s x86-based Atom platform.

There was certainly some buzz around smartbooks at CES, following the unveiling of Lenovo’s innovative Skylight device, and its IdeaPad U1 (which also run on Snapdragon.) Nvidia showed off a number of prototype mobile computing devices, but made no formal announcements about any products, as some had anticipated.

Intel likely isn’t sweating just yet; its dominance of the traditional PC CPU market isn’t under imminent threat. It remains to be seen how consumers will react to the smartbook phenomenon. The battery-friendly devices offer less processing power than Atom, but plenty of juice to do things most folks want to do, like surf the Web and watch movies.

Bob Morris, director of mobile computing for ARM Holdings Plc, which licenses the chip architecture used by the smartbook semiconductor companies, said the race has just begun.

“We’re only 2 years in a 5- to 7-year change in the industry.”