Mobile computing - when the price is right

An increasing number of US companies are letting staff choose between a desktop PC and a notebook, and the higher cost of portables is no longer the discouragement it once was. This is because the way we work when we're at work - and when we're not - is changing, driving a move for notebooks to replace desktop PCs, says IBM's vice-president of mobile computing, Per Larsen. He claims notebooks could eventually replace up to 80% of business desktop PCs.

An increasing number of US companies are letting staff choose between a desktop PC and a notebook, and the higher cost of portables is no longer the discouragement it once was.

This is because the way we work when we’re at work — and when we’re not — is changing, driving a move for notebooks to replace desktop PCs, says IBM’s vice-president of mobile computing, Per Larsen.

Speaking at IBM’s ThinkPad Asia Pacific Press Advisory Council meeting in Singapore, Larsen says one recent study looked at how notebooks over time would change from being supplemental to being desktop replacements. While that US study gave a figure of 50%, Larsen believes the desktop replacement figure is probably closer to 80%. He says many US companies now let end-users choose between a desktop PC and a notebook, and believes the latter’s expense doesn’t discourage companies. “It is pretty well understood now that the purchase price is less important.”

So what’s so compelling about notebooks that drives their growth despite their expense? Larsen says it’s the way we work.

Ten years ago people worked largely on paper. Today they use “PC tools” to create, store, manage and manipulate information. Larsen says this “enormous change” means people generally can’t work without a keyboard. They either stay at their desktop or have a notebook to work in more than one place.

He says people want to be able to work anywhere, anytime because today they work in teams rather than “one by one in cubicles” as they did 10 years ago. Larsen says that means people need to bring their tools with them as they work — such as taking their notebook to the conference room. That brings with it certain challenges, particularly that desktop replacements need to basically have the same performance as a desktop.

He says the desktop replacement doesn’t have to be greatly mobile. They can have bigger screens and weigh more to optimise for having a desktop performance, though he believes 14.1in is the upper limit for screens on notebooks.

Larsen says the world is being managed by people in decentralised locations, many of whom get together via the telephone, and therefore video conferencing on notebooks is a powerful feature.

“Even a less lively video picture may be very compelling, because it may make it easier to communicate on telephone calls like that.”

Meanwhile, older technology such as floppy drives — which no longer have enough storage capacity for today’s demands — are less likely on notebooks in future.

But Larsen believes it will be difficult to remove them, because “the floppy is such an integral part of our world”.

DVD will become a compelling business application on notebooks, particularly as it increases in storage size to 17Gb.

Larsen believes the NC could change trends in notebooks. It could shift them back to supplemental devices again.

He almost chuckles at the idea of a mobile NC, however.

“I think [the NC] is a very compelling idea and is a very useful one in a lot of corporations, but I honestly can’t see why you would want a mobile version of it. I don't understand that term: mobile NC. It’s an oxymoron.”

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