The new two-laptop minimum

Three things have happened that have turned around this formula for mobile success

Ten years ago, every frequent-flying, executive-platinum mobile professional required a desktop PC back at the office and a laptop for the road. "Ultra-portables" or extreme mini computers were an expensive and optional luxury for serious enthusiasts or big shots with expense accounts. But in the last year, all that has changed.

Three things have happened that have turned around this formula for mobile success:

  • 1. Regular laptops have gotten far cheaper. Moore and his law have brought down the costs of miniaturization, LCD real estate and other components.

  • 2. Researchers have established an inescapable correlation between screen size and productivity. (Read this and this.)

  • 3. The Asus Eee PC and its ilk have transformed the market -- and pricing -- for tiny laptops.

This combination of factors has transformed the magic "sweet spot" for what's required and what's optional. The new formula is that an "ultra portable" or tiny laptop is now required, a laptop with the biggest possible screen (within reason) is required, and a desktop PC is now optional.

That means you need to get the most work done in the least amount of time when you're in hotel rooms or have time to sit down and get things done. You also can't afford to waste small amounts of time between scheduled events -- for example during layovers or in-flight.

Tiny computers like the Asus Eee PC are ideal for those in-between work sessions, especially when equipped with a mobile broadband connection. Got 10 minutes? Just flip that sucker open and get some real work done. They're ideal for those cramped, coach tray tables -- or even restaurant tables. At a US$400 entry price, there's no excuse not to buy a tiny laptop.

When you're on a multi-day business trip -- or if you're an extreme telecommuter -- the most important factor affecting how much you'll get done in a given amount of time (or, how much time you'll have to spend in order to get a given amount of work done) is screen size.

When you're buying a new laptop, it's tempting to make a compromise between overall size (where smaller is better) against screen size (where bigger is better). However, the smart choice is to maximize screen size -- buy the biggest screen laptop that you can both afford and that will fit in your carryon luggage. That big screen will transform your productivity.

You'll also notice that a really full-featured laptop with a very large screen -- 17 inches or more -- can replace your desktop PC very nicely. My preference is all three -- tiny laptop, big-screen laptop and desktop PC -- but the desktop PC is most expendable for frequent fliers.

The transformation in quality and pricing for notebook PCs -- and the new information about the relationship between screen size and productivity -- means that serious mobile professionals need -- yeah, I said it: need -- two laptops, not just one, in order to remain maximally productive.

Smart mobile professionals now have a two-laptop minimum.

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Mike Elgan

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