2006, The Year of the Portable Computer
It’s almost year-end. After spending a lot of time heads down looking at new notebooks for the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that 2006 may be the seminal year in the advancement of portable computing technologies.
- Notebook makers finally seem to understand that a notebook is the ultimate extension of the personal computing dream. If you don’t understand this concept, try the following experiment. Set your notebook down on a desk and get a coworker to lure someone into using your machine. When you come back and find someone hammering away on your portable do you find yourself all filled with cheery, share-the-joy, thoughts ofr do you feel a little violated. The most effective marketing campaign I’ve seen this year is HP’s “The computer is personal again.” Apparently the market agrees as sales of HP portables are steadily increasing. Kudos to HP for providing options the let me have a nice glossy black screen case that compliments the look and feel of its portables.
- At long last, most notebook makers have realized communications options are paramount to successful portable computing products. I’ve lived through and survived a lot of revolutions in notebook computing and persistent wireless connectivity using technologies like those now supported by the Verizon, Cingular and Sprint networks is transformational. Going forward I expect to see more notebook makers incorporate this option at the system level. If there were two notebooks that I reviewed and came to rely on in 2006 they were Lenovo’s ThinkPad X60s and ThinkPad x60 tablet. Both incorporated wireless broadband connectivity and both fundamentally changed how I viewed and used portable computers. My hats off to Lenovo for its wireless designs. They did the homework that was needed to deliver drop dead reliable connectivity, no matter where I was (including sitting on a picnic bench on top of a mountain at Lake Fuller in northern California, where I had one bar of signal strength and got an urgent email from one of my children requesting an immediate transfer from The Bank of Dad to her account in Sacramento, CA). I accomplished this using the eVDo network, which eliminated my hsvingt o drive back down US 80 like a maniac to gt my child the money she needed. Separately, I flamed Apple for not including a modem in its MacBookPro earlier thi year and was promptly accused of living in a cave. To the righteous Apple fanatics who criticized my evaluation of MacBookPro: My point is that many people still have the need for dial-up. It happens from time to time.
- Most notebook makers are delivering and designing portables that are much more capable, much lighter and much less expensive than machines that were being sold two, three and five years ago. Because of advances in low power integrated circuits and microprocessors, I often leave my charger in my car and routinely rely on up to six hours of battery life. Small form factor portables are going mass market and are no longer just “executive jewelry.”
- Tablet computing is no longer faddish. It’s becoming mainstream. Today’s convertible notebooks cost a fraction of the original machines and are two and three times as powerful as first generation pen-based computers. Although HP is the only notebook maker that has a dedicated evangelist working with universities and other educational institutions, other notebook makers are assigning tablet computing evangelist-like responsibilities to marketing personnel with strong ties to specific colleges. There’s a lesson here from Apple’s playbook: Create steeply discounted academic buying programs and then work with instructors to make convertible tablet computers an integral part of the university experience. I lecture on web-based Internet businesses at a nearby four-year university. All of my lecture material are on my 5-pound tablet, absent my notebook, I’d be stuck schlepping about 12 pounds of books and handouts one mile across campus from the faculty/guest parking area. In and of itself, this is an example of a transformational experience. But educational cmputing and convertible notebooks are both about to get a huge megavitamin injection from Microsoft Vista, which incorporates new technologies for this class of usage. What started in 2006 will roll past its moment of inertia and thunder on in the coming year
- The one concept that’s kept me interested in portable computing over the years has been Alan Kay’s Dynabook proposal. The delivery of small form factor notebooks in 2006 that weigh less than many textbooks and which support persistent communications, pen-based data entry and have the capability to create and display rich graphics as well as share information in fixed and ad hoc networks leads me to believe that the age of Dynabook has come at last. And looking back, much of this happened in 2006.
Free at last, free at last. Portable computing has made me free at last.—Jim Forbes, 12/29/2006