IBM is to go after the small notebook market, with machines of a specification somewhere between Windows CE handheld devices and current laptops.
At its annual mobile computing conference in Milan last week, the company said it believes this is the future direction of notebook technology.
Adalio Sanchez, IBM's mobile computing chief of technology, said the company would wait and see what happens with Windows CE in the market before deciding exactly what size the mini-notebook will be.
Sanchez refused to say when IBM is likely to release the new machine.
He also predicted that the keyboard of the notebook could vanish, in favour of voice recognition or handwriting recognition. Integrating copper chips into notebooks will also allow higher levels of integration, he said, sweeping together more functions into one chip, while new lithium polymer batteries would take up less space than current lithium ion parts.
Other concerns to be addressed in the evolution of notebook technology include security, Sanchez said. As about 10% of all notebooks get stolen, he said a personalised smart card that encrypts the hard drive and fits in the PC card slot would arrive late this year, costing about $150 (#92).
Better communications will also be essential. Sanchez pointed to the Bluetooth standard as the way forward in this area. Bluetooth, championed by IBM, Toshiba, Intel and Nokia is the standard for a chip enabling wireless radio communications (see PC Week, 26 May). Sanchez also pledged to support DSL technology as soon as it becomes available.
In the mini-notebook market, IBM will face problems, analysts said. The market between PDAs and notebooks is in flux, said Terry Ernest-Jones, an analyst at IDC. "People buy PDAs to access information, not to create it: these machines are companion devices, but notebooks are for productivity," he said.
IBM is also likely to use Windows CE in some of its devices, despite an existing licensing deal with 3Com for its rival Palm Pilot technology.
This may not be a good move, however. "Running Windows operating systems on handheld devices cripples the technology," protested Ernest-Jones.
Price is the main factor holding back the notebook market, Sanchez said.
Analysts agree. "Why would a user spend #2,000 on a notebook when they can have a desktop for less?" asked Ernest-Jones.
BM believes the following criteria have to be met before the notebook market can really take off:
- Pricing must come down
- Machines must get lighter
- The capacity for storage must grow, as applications get richer
- Communications and connectivity must be reliable
- The cost of ownership and management of notebooks must become less complex.
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