Last year it was predicted that the day of the desktop was over - that notebooks and portables were making the clunky old PC into a dinosaur.
This perceived trend suited much of the channel, since margins tend to be higher, but it did not suit the mass of users who still do most of their computing at a desk and want large screens and keyboards.
This year there has been a backlash, according to several research surveys, including one from Banner. Desktop sales are rising, but this balance may be tipped again with a rush of activity that promises to make notebooks more powerful than ever.
The Comdex show in Las Vegas will see a host of new notebooks with desktop capabilities. Toshiba will demonstrate a notebook with a 10-speed CD-Rom.
Hitachi will position its Mx Series as a desktop PC alternative. It will feature advanced multimedia and communications facilities, including a 33.6Kbps cellular-ready modem with a 10Base-T Ethernet port and infrared communications for wireless data transfer. Codenamed Godzilla, it will be the first notebook to use side-port stereo speakers to increase sound quality. It will cost from $4,000 to $5,000.
Apple has been trying to convince its resellers that notebooks will be its salvation and announced a raft of portable models last week. But Apple is seeing its shipments fall. Recent trends seem to mitigate against its desktop models providing it with the sales growth it now seeks - delays in the next release of its operating system and the increasing popularity of Windows - so it has been looking at notebooks as the way forward.
But the launch last week of a revamped Newton handheld computer pointed to some of the problems that have frustrated Apple resellers in the past.
Newton was technically advanced with its pen-based interface and handwriting recognition software, but sold only 50,000 units last year. The new version is targeted at a smaller niche, particularly white collar workers and education. There is a specific version for education - one of Apple's strongest sectors - called the eMate 300, which costs $800 and will be sold exclusively to schools.
But the companies that will really benefit if notebooks revive against desktops and start to edge closer to 50 per cent market share are those in Taiwan. The country will eclipse Japan as the world's leading manufacturer of notebooks this year, according to Taipei estimates published last week.
Six of the companies will go public in the next few months to raise capital to extend production, and next year the island will supply at least 40 per cent of the world's notebooks.
While predictions that notebooks would make desktops redundant seem unlikely now, it is more likely that total PC sales will continue to rise, with notebooks booming in specific and largely under-developed application areas.
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