There’s life in laptops, but not as we know it, Jim!

On 2 June 1897, Mark Twain published a statement in the New York Journal with the immortal words, “The report of my death was an exaggeration”. The correction was occasioned by newspaper accounts of Twain’s being ill or dead. At the time, Twain’s cousin James Ross Clemens was seriously ill in London, and it appears that some reports confused him with Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

Fast forward to 2014 and today’s laptop market. Ever since tablets started pouring out in millions, pundits have declared that laptops, as we know them, are dead.

But are those reports, as in Twain’s case, exaggerated ?

Laptops started out as keyboard, screen and a hinge, a PC you could fold up and take it away. I still have my Toshiba T1600, yes it’s bulky, has removable batteries, floppy drive, mono screen, but the basic configuration is the same as today’s laptop: keyboard, screen, hinge. By the way, the screen on the T1600 could be unplugged and a colour one inserted in its place – can anyone do that today?

The point is that no matter what the advances in screen technology, Moore’s law or batteries, for almost 30 years after the decline of the “luggable” PC, the essential form factor has not changed.

Why? Because it works.

For a while, it worked with consumers and businesses, for consumers it branched off  smaller with netbooks, for businesses it tried micro with palm PCs, but meanwhile the basic shape and function continued, with sales numbers artificially buoyed by incredible consumer demand which – as is the way with all consumer fashion – moved on to the next desirable thing, in this case tablets.

Meanwhile, however, businesses carried on buying laptops. Companies that focussed on consumer laptops suffered as price competition got even more fierce, but enterprise stalwarts such as HP and Lenovo continued to service their business customer needs with a functional device that did the job with a screen, keyboard and hinge. In fact, it’s a nice business. Data from CONTEXT shows average selling prices (ASP) for business laptops in Europe are 50% higher than similarly specified consumer laptops. And what’s more, business laptop ASPs have risen over the last year 2%, while consumer laptop prices are still dropping, 5% over the last year.

In the immortal words of Dr McCoy in Star Trek, “It’s life, but not as we know it”. Tablets will come and go, smartphones will morph into the next big thing, but meanwhile there’s a basic business need for laptops with a keyboard, screen and hinge that – until someone comes up with a viable alternative form factor that does as good a job – will continue into the future, whatever technology that encompasses.

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