Five years ago, notebooks were viewed as status symbols. You got a mobile phone and then the notebook. But what did you do with this symbol of corporate status? Your notebook was purchased in addition to your desktop, and aside from a little wordprocessing, was seldom used.
Since then, processors, storage capacities, screen and battery technologies have all improved. By the mid-90s, the notebook was a practical business computer.
In 1994, Dell launched the first Latitude notebook. Dell knew from customer feedback that high-end feature set was not the road to success. What was required was a mobile business computer based around four simple core values: dependability, cross-compatibility, connectivity and the use of relevant technology.
Early forays into mobile computing proved a cruel learning curve. Notebooks designed on feature set rather than core values delivered product failure and disenchantment.
Few buyers had considered robustness or battery life. Why should they?
Experience had come from buying desktops, which tend not to get bumped around in car boots. Second time around, customers knew what to demand of a notebook.
Another factor driving change was the recession that followed the 80s.
As awareness of total cost of ownership (TCO) spread through corporate boardrooms, IT had to account for its budget. As notebooks could perform the same tasks as desktops, why should the corporate make the double investment of both a desktop and a notebook? The term desktop replacement described this new area to users for whom a notebook was their sole computing device.
The notebook PC had come of age.
As desktop replacement takes hold, the mobile market is changing again.
Take the power of a desktop, throw in mobility, and new computing potential becomes available. For example, GSM and remote communications enable information sharing on the move. Increasing the speed at which information is exchanged gives a vital competitive edge. Mobile hot-desking means saving on overheads while placing profit generating staff in locations where they are most profitable - out with customers.
Exhibitions and forums specialising in mobile computing spring up monthly.
Visit any to see that harnessing the profit-generating and cost-saving power of notebooks is a serious business.
This is where the smart money is. Awareness of the power of mobile computing coupled with TCO means corporate buyers look beyond the notebook and towards the mobile system.
Mobile computing becomes more than just a notebook. It is using the notebook to realise a business goal. But for the customer this is not a quick process.
Getting the strategy right requires substantial planning and an understanding of the benefits.
Communications, connectivity, software, support and training must all be deployed if benefits are to be gained. This factor will be the one that drives the next major change in notebook computing - product stability.
After planning, product selection, and rollout, customers expect their mobile system to last for more than nine months, or until the notebook at its core is declared end-of-life by its manufacturer.
The future leading vendors in mobile computing will not be those bombarding the market with feats of the latest and greatest technology, but those consistently delivering stable, relevant and cross-compatible products that can become foundations for mobile advantage.
Peter Watts is product marketing manager of notebooks at Dell.
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