Ultraportable laptops: Their rise and possible fall

Whether or not the current generation of ultraportable laptops is a success, we're at the beginning of the move to smaller, more connective devices.

But even the skeptics agree that the market is still in flux. For one thing, more tiny laptops are on the way. For example, Lenovo Group is said to have models in the wings. And proponents of this class of devices say they will get cheaper over time.

"Right now, the prices range from US$300 to $800," says Via's Brown. "In the next year, $200 to $700 will be the range."

But the biggest changes -- and what may cause tiny laptops to lose momentum or even disappear entirely -- may be in the size and shape of upcoming mobile devices. Intel says that a variant of its Atom processor is aimed at so-called mobile Internet devices, or MIDs, which are roughly the size of PDAs and have built-in Internet connectivity. So far, the best-known MID is Nokia's N800 series of Internet tablets, but Intel claims more vendors are developing such devices. Research firm Allied Business Intelligence recently predicted sales of 50 million MIDs per year by 2013, largely using Linux as their operating system.

Also expect more connectivity. Some ultraportable laptop vendors are said to be building 3G connectivity into the devices -- one such device, the G10IIL, is already available from Taipei-based Elitegroup Computer Systems. According to Brown, at least one cellular carrier in the U.S. -- Sprint Nextel Corp. -- is seriously considering not just offering 3G-ready ultraportables but also subsidizing their price to make them affordable. The carriers like the idea because it will help sell their 3G data services, Brown says.

In other words, whether or not the current generation of ultraportable laptops is a success, we're just seeing the beginning of the move to smaller, more connective devices that will come even closer to the road warrior's Holy Grail.

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David Haskin

Computerworld (US)
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