Fujitsu notebooks balance customer demands

Fujitsu launched an ultra-light, 2.2-pound notebook on Tuesday, offering a PC that balances the conflicting demands of businesspeople.

Fujitsu Computer Systems launched an ultralight, 2.2-pound (997 grams) notebook on Tuesday, offering a PC that balances the conflicting demands of businesspeople.

The LifeBook Q2010 notebook is just three-quarters inch thick and uses a docking station to play CDs. The launch follows the June 7 release of Fujitsu's LifeBook T4210 Tablet PC, a notebook with a touch-screen that pivots to either the right or the left, and a stylus that also serves as an eraser.

The two designs reveal the challenge faced by PC vendors, since they withhold certain high-end customer demands, while providing many others. Like its competitors, Fujitsu often quizzes customers about the changes they want in future products. But the company takes the answers with a grain of salt.

"Customers ask for some things that are illogical or just not doable," said Paul Moore, senior director of mobile product marketing for notebook and tablet PCs at Fujitsu in Sunnyvale, California.

For example, Fujitsu's research indicates that few customers used an integrated microphone, so designers left it out of their latest product. Customers howled with complaints, so the company returned the little-used feature in the next generation.

In another case, a small number of users demanded integrated wireless WAN (wide area network), to use as a cellular modem. But Fujitsu did not include it in the Q2010 because research indicates that almost no one uses the feature.

In the US, four percent of wireless-enabled notebook users actually subscribe to a network from providers like Verizon Communications, Cingular Wireless or Sprint Nextel, Moore said.

Fujitsu plans to add the service to future models, as soon as demand is large enough. In the meantime, notebook owners who want the feature can always use a removable PCMCIA card.

In fact, the company thinks cellular modem usage will take off by mid-2007, Moore said. Public wireless zones are cropping up in cities like New York and San Francisco and in schools like the universities of Virginia and Florida. Another driver is the growth of "session-based computing," a business model allowing customers to buy wireless contracts for periods as short as one day.

Adding a new feature before the market is ready would only raise prices for everyone while pleasing a small slice of buyers.

That is one reason that Fujitsu has maintained an 8.9-inch screen for its smallest tablet PC, the P1500, while competitors like Samsung Electronics America have rushed to produce an ultra-mobile PC with a 7-inch screen. That Q1 product is also known by its Microsoft code-name, Origami.

"You still have to work for a living, so the PC must be big enough to do actual work. And at a US$1,000 price for Origami, no one is buying this just for watching video and playing games," Moore said.

As the fifth-largest PC vendor in the US, Fujitsu is content to build market share slowly, instead of transforming itself into a bargain vendor. Fujitsu's strategy is different from PC vendors such as Dell and Lenovo Group, which have recently cut prices in their bids to gain market share.

"Once you go down that road you can't stop; it's like a squirrel on a highway," said Moore.

Fujitsu's Lifebook Q2010 has a 12.1-inch screen, Intel Core Solo processor, biometric fingerprint sensor, and accelerometer to protect data by freezing the hard drive heads when it senses an impact. Prices start at US$1,999, with additional storage and battery life in configurations costing US$2399 and US$3199.

The LifeBook T4210 has an Intel Core Duo processor, 12.1-inch display and a modular bay that supports the user's choice of either an optical drive or an additional battery. Prices start at US$1,729.

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Ben Ames

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