Laptops are taking over the desktop
Laptop and notebook computers have always been highly desirable commodities, but with falling prices and improving technology, the laptop now outsells the desktop on a global basis.
Despite the global economic downturn, desktop sales in 2008 fell by just over 1%, whilst laptop sales rose by 40%. What accounts for the surge in laptop sales? Partly it is the success of the cheap small form factor netbooks which were introduced during 2008 and have proved a big hit. Figures for Q3, when the netbook format first became available, reveal that the industry shipped 38.5 million desktops and 38.6 million portable computers, a marginally larger figure which includes around 5.6 million netbooks.
There are many reasons for the rise in popularity of the notebook computer. Portability has always been seen as a desirable factor, but modern design has produced slimmer machines with lighter components and today's laptops typically weight around 3kg or less and are light enough to be carried in a briefcase or shoulder bag. Screens, once the achilles heel of notebooks, have improved immeasurably and the LCD technology, once found only on expensive laptops, is now the best choice for desktop computing too. Disk drives have shrunk massively over the years, and more significantly they have greatly reduced their power requirements which, along with advances in processor design, enables machines to be built with smaller, lighter batteries. Keyboards always used to be a problem, and still are to some extent, but these days we expect to use a mouse more than function keys and the mouse pad has become standard design on the modern laptop.
However, the biggest factor affecting the uptake of laptop computing is, in my opinion, the emergence of WiFi networking, broadband and the internet. At one time a computer was only as good as the software you could run on it, and software is expensive. For business users, software was an office suite, and for home users it often meant games and some token educational software for the kids, but these days there are many users who need nothing more than a browser and an internet connection. There is a huge library of information out there on every conceivable subject, vast amounts of multimedia on sites like YouTube and the BBC, interactive communities, online games, and all the free software you could ask for. The usefulness of your laptop is no longer constrained by your software budget.
So people buy PCs to get onto the internet and it is no longer a minority interest. The whole family wants to get online but few people would want to run expensive network cables around their house. The emergence of WiFi as a well-established standard, and low cost WiFi routers supported by the ISPs takes away the networking headache and brings home networking into the reach of everyone. WiFi is now built into the motherboards of most laptops and connecting it to your home router is painless. You no longer need to go on a training course before you can set up a network. More importantly, it also unshackles the laptop. You can now connect just as easily at work or at school, not to mention coffee shops. There was a time when the man sitting next to you on the train used his laptop to play Solitaire. Nowadays, he is more likely to be using it to check his email.
Price is the other big factor and now is a great time to be buying. You can still pay ridiculous sums for a laptop if you really want to, but if you shop around you can get brilliant machines, well-known brand names with 15-inch displays and all the processor power you could need for as little as £300. If you want real portability and don't mind the smaller screen sizes, you can get a variety of netbooks for around £200, and during 2009 you may even see a £99 Elonex Netbook being sold in Marks & Spencers where the price tag will reduce it to an "impulse buy".
19th January 2009
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.