August 3, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Has the notebook-to-handheld conversion begun?

It's hard to believe, but there's a high-tech company that got rid of its notebooks.

The company's CEO, tired of the expenses involved in buying and supporting notebooks, took them all away and gave the 700-plus employees desktops and "smart" handhelds, said Al Delattre, a partner in the communications and high-tech practice at Accenture, which worked with the unidentified company on the transition.

"They loved it," he said. "You give a senior executive a laptop, and they generally only use three applications: e-mail, a browser and IM."

News.context

What's new:
Though notebook sales are currently driving the PC market, evidence is beginning to mount that smart phones, the BlackBerry and other handheld devices are starting to displace laptops, at least in the pockets of the corporate world.

Bottom line:
The push behind the trend comes from the confluence of several factors. Handhelds have become more sophisticated and can handle most basic tasks. Laptops are pricier and need to be replaced fairly often. People have gotten used to taking care of business on handhelds.

More stories on handhelds

A dozen other companies are in the midst of a similar conversion, or contemplating it, Delattre added.

Though notebook sales are currently driving the PC market, evidence is beginning to mount that one of the most repeated predictions from the '90s is starting to come true. Smart phones, the BlackBerry and other handheld devices that combine computer applications, Internet connectivity and a phone are starting to displace laptops, at least in the pockets of the corporate world.

Shipments of smart handhelds pale in comparison to those of notebooks (roughly 60 million annually) or cell phones (more than 700 million worldwide), but they're growing fast. Market researcher Canalys said 12.2 million devices that could be classified as smart phones shipped in the second quarter, more than double the 5.9 million shipped in the same quarter a year ago. The market leaders, in order, are Nokia, Palm and Research In Motion.

The push behind the trend comes from the confluence of several factors favorable to handhelds. First, the devices themselves and the data networks that carry traffic are far more sophisticated than they were several years ago. Corporate applications such as databases and customer relationship management (CRM) software can also be accessed through handhelds.

"I don't carry a laptop anymore because my phone is sophisticated enough," said David Kelley, one of the founders of the design firm Ideo and a professor at the Stanford University Institute of Design.

Then there's the cost side of the equation. Corporate laptops generally run about $1,000 to $1,500, that's higher than a desktop ($700) or a handheld ($300 to $500), particularly if the carrier subsidizes the handheld. Support and management costs can be less for laptops, but "the notebooks get beat up a lot," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, who says Wall Street traders have already begun to convert. "As a usage model, it makes a lot of sense. For certain kinds of users--power users--they want the best PC experience, which is a desktop. And they want mobility."

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Because of the wear and tear laptops go through, the replacement cycle for notebooks can run about two years, more frequent than the three- to four-year replacement cycle of desktops.

Another cost-related perk regarding smart handhelds stems from the fact that the devices also have phones. Because of that, random expense reports for cell phone calls drop.

Finally, individual behavior has begun to change. The once alien clickety-clack of the BlackBerry keyboard has become commonplace. Watch people on planes, Delattre said. They type away furiously on handhelds until takeoff. Then, in flight, they take out their laptops to watch movies.

"You are getting less functionality in a smaller package," Delattre said. "The BlackBerry has become a business tool, and the laptop has become an entertainment device."

Intel, which makes chips for notebooks but also the less-expensive chips for handhelds, says notebooks are here to stay.

Of the 200 million PCs that will ship this year, about 30 percent will be notebooks, according to market researcher Gartner.

Additionally, notebook manufacturers have continued to improve their products by increasing battery life, expanding screens and dropping weight. And some functions--such as reading Web pages--scream for a big screen.

"I could see (smart handhelds) for a subset of users. But for the vast majority of customers, the notebook is going to be it," said Keith Kresslin, director of mobile platforms marketing at Intel.

Delattre added that smart handhelds aren't appropriate for everyone. Someone who needs to carry a big screen--a graphic artist, for instance--or someone who must type long memos will likely need a laptop.

Demand for the big screen, however, can be circumvented. Some of the companies that have converted to handhelds have given memory cards or USB memory devices to their sales reps for PowerPoint slides and other documentation. When on a customer call, the rep just needs to insert the memory card and connect to a screen at the customer's office.

"The big barrier is the imagination of the users on how to add value," Delattre said.

30 comments

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Smartphones not smart enough
Smartphones simply aren't good enough yet. I would like to see a larger screen with VGA support, Bluetooth 2.0 and built-in WiFi. A 4GB micro-drive is the bare minimum for storage space.
Posted by Galley (55 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Close, but not yet
I love my Treo - but I still use it's "smart phone" functionality as
little as possible. In fact, what I like most about it is the ability to
use it as a bluetooth modem for my laptop. Connecting my laptop
through the phone I still get stuff done significantly faster than on
the Treo - even if it's just e-mail and word processing.
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
Why not 40GB
Greg, can you explain to me why they can't have storage space that
is similiar to that of an iPod, which can be up to 60GB?
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Smartphones not smart enough
Smartphones simply aren't good enough yet. I would like to see a larger screen with VGA support, Bluetooth 2.0 and built-in WiFi. A 4GB micro-drive is the bare minimum for storage space.
Posted by Galley (55 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Close, but not yet
I love my Treo - but I still use it's "smart phone" functionality as
little as possible. In fact, what I like most about it is the ability to
use it as a bluetooth modem for my laptop. Connecting my laptop
through the phone I still get stuff done significantly faster than on
the Treo - even if it's just e-mail and word processing.
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
Why not 40GB
Greg, can you explain to me why they can't have storage space that
is similiar to that of an iPod, which can be up to 60GB?
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
blackberry is great for some things...
i use mine all the time, its great when i'm on the road between customers. I rather they email me then call so I can handle things on my own time. but i don't ever see these handhelds being a replacement for a laptop. it's just a great added gadget for people on the move. my widescreen super portable will always be superior! (especially with more and more wifi around)
Posted by hugh dunnit (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
blackberry is great for some things...
i use mine all the time, its great when i'm on the road between customers. I rather they email me then call so I can handle things on my own time. but i don't ever see these handhelds being a replacement for a laptop. it's just a great added gadget for people on the move. my widescreen super portable will always be superior! (especially with more and more wifi around)
Posted by hugh dunnit (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BlackBerries aren't smart enough but MS devices definitelly do it for me.
The BlackBerry is too limited in interface, functionality and reliability (because of the addtional layer of infrastructure managed by RIM) to replace a laptop, but an MS Smartphone such as the HP 6315 or the iMate is indeed a great alternative and I don't carry my laptop around any longer.
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BlackBerries aren't smart enough but MS devices definitelly do it for me.
The BlackBerry is too limited in interface, functionality and reliability (because of the addtional layer of infrastructure managed by RIM) to replace a laptop, but an MS Smartphone such as the HP 6315 or the iMate is indeed a great alternative and I don't carry my laptop around any longer.
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blackberry's are not all that
I've had a Bberry for 2 or 3 years from my company. It's good at
email. That's about it. It's a lousy phone, the browser is terrible and
the interface has some major issues. is it useful? Hell yes. Would i
give up my laptop? Not a chance. (I've had bberry's from the
original black one to the blue colour screen one.) face it - people
like having email in their pocket and RIM is good at that. But the
other functions are PAINFUL. I prefer my Motorola phone and
laptop for anything more than a quick "yes, i agree" email. But
that's just me i guess.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blackberry's are not all that
I've had a Bberry for 2 or 3 years from my company. It's good at
email. That's about it. It's a lousy phone, the browser is terrible and
the interface has some major issues. is it useful? Hell yes. Would i
give up my laptop? Not a chance. (I've had bberry's from the
original black one to the blue colour screen one.) face it - people
like having email in their pocket and RIM is good at that. But the
other functions are PAINFUL. I prefer my Motorola phone and
laptop for anything more than a quick "yes, i agree" email. But
that's just me i guess.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's funny...
...my observation is that PDAs are giving way to increased
notebook adoption. I, for one, went from desktop to Treo to
notebook (PowerBook G4), for the following reasons:
1. PDA software not all that it's marketed to be, and there's less
of it available.
2. Who wants to format a contract of spreadsheet on a 3"
screen?
3. Notebooks can readily tap into several wireless Internet/
network protocols (e.g., WiFi/WiMax and Bluetooth, and even
use a mobile phone as a modem). And with a handy keychain
WiFi finder, I can quickly check for an available connection
anywhere.
4. PDA phones are too bulky as far as phones go. Think
Zoolander!
5. Notebooks are sleak and slim enough to "take anywhere."
6. VoIP technology let's me use my notebook as my "phone,"
with relatively seamless integration with my CRM systems.
7. Notebooks possess far greater processing power and offer
magnificently better displays (of course).
8. Total cost of ownership for a notebook can be *less* than a
PDA, because all the implementation/integration technologies to
connect PDAs to computing environments are quite expensive.
I'm sure there are other reasons, oh, like the fact that every new
iteration of a chosen PDA phone line requires all new accessories
(e.g., Treo).
Just my opinion!
Posted by scott.gardner (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's funny...
...my observation is that PDAs are giving way to increased
notebook adoption. I, for one, went from desktop to Treo to
notebook (PowerBook G4), for the following reasons:
1. PDA software not all that it's marketed to be, and there's less
of it available.
2. Who wants to format a contract of spreadsheet on a 3"
screen?
3. Notebooks can readily tap into several wireless Internet/
network protocols (e.g., WiFi/WiMax and Bluetooth, and even
use a mobile phone as a modem). And with a handy keychain
WiFi finder, I can quickly check for an available connection
anywhere.
4. PDA phones are too bulky as far as phones go. Think
Zoolander!
5. Notebooks are sleak and slim enough to "take anywhere."
6. VoIP technology let's me use my notebook as my "phone,"
with relatively seamless integration with my CRM systems.
7. Notebooks possess far greater processing power and offer
magnificently better displays (of course).
8. Total cost of ownership for a notebook can be *less* than a
PDA, because all the implementation/integration technologies to
connect PDAs to computing environments are quite expensive.
I'm sure there are other reasons, oh, like the fact that every new
iteration of a chosen PDA phone line requires all new accessories
(e.g., Treo).
Just my opinion!
Posted by scott.gardner (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Getting closer
Got a Samsung i730 three weeks ago. It works well for phone calls, e-mail, Internet, MP3 play back, video, (3 complete movie on one SD card) and IM. Too bad there is no cross compiler for Motorola HC12, then I could ditch the laptop!
Posted by HUMMERSrock (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Getting closer
Got a Samsung i730 three weeks ago. It works well for phone calls, e-mail, Internet, MP3 play back, video, (3 complete movie on one SD card) and IM. Too bad there is no cross compiler for Motorola HC12, then I could ditch the laptop!
Posted by HUMMERSrock (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Affordable Small Tablet PC
Laptops are great, but they are still to big.
Pocket pcs are great, but they don't ran my application, and if I have to edit my MS Word files it is a pain to fit it on the small screen.
Given enough momentum maybe Tablet PCs are going to replace the notebooks. They just have to be made small enough and capable of running more then one applicaion at a time.
I'm not talking about a huge notebook like tablet pc with all bells and whistler attached to it. Sure that beast will ran all my aps and then some, but I already have a notebook. Doodling on the screen with a pen is not going to be enough incentive for me to buy another computer.
Tablet PC like LS800 from motion computing are needed to really move the industry. Software like GoBinder, One Note and Mind Manager need to be be integreated deeper with the OS to generate real interest when it comes to laptop replacement.
I have been using a Tablet PC fore a while now and there is no way I would voluntarily switch back to a notebook. My HP TC1100 is small enough to carry in a binder and fast enough to have any of my docs open in a flash. With the SP2 for tablet PCs released it is now better then ever. Most of the desktops will be eventually replaced by notebooks which in turn will become smaller lighter and be able to comfortably accommodate text input without keyboards.
Posted by Montevale (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Affordable Small Tablet PC
Laptops are great, but they are still to big.
Pocket pcs are great, but they don't ran my application, and if I have to edit my MS Word files it is a pain to fit it on the small screen.
Given enough momentum maybe Tablet PCs are going to replace the notebooks. They just have to be made small enough and capable of running more then one applicaion at a time.
I'm not talking about a huge notebook like tablet pc with all bells and whistler attached to it. Sure that beast will ran all my aps and then some, but I already have a notebook. Doodling on the screen with a pen is not going to be enough incentive for me to buy another computer.
Tablet PC like LS800 from motion computing are needed to really move the industry. Software like GoBinder, One Note and Mind Manager need to be be integreated deeper with the OS to generate real interest when it comes to laptop replacement.
I have been using a Tablet PC fore a while now and there is no way I would voluntarily switch back to a notebook. My HP TC1100 is small enough to carry in a binder and fast enough to have any of my docs open in a flash. With the SP2 for tablet PCs released it is now better then ever. Most of the desktops will be eventually replaced by notebooks which in turn will become smaller lighter and be able to comfortably accommodate text input without keyboards.
Posted by Montevale (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Users define the need...
Different organizations have different offline requirements. In this case, the company saw that the activities of the users are good enough with a handheld. I think it is an exageration that laptops can be replaced by handhelds in general. For high-end mobile users, true mini-PCs (ultra-portable PCs) like OQO and FlipStart are worth checking out.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Users define the need...
Different organizations have different offline requirements. In this case, the company saw that the activities of the users are good enough with a handheld. I think it is an exageration that laptops can be replaced by handhelds in general. For high-end mobile users, true mini-PCs (ultra-portable PCs) like OQO and FlipStart are worth checking out.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Data goggles+VGA out == revolution
The capabilities of handhelds/smartphones and laptop do indeed overlap to the extent that one can contemplate just using a smartphone for 95% of one's needs. The innovations that would really move this forward are: 1) Good, hi-res, not bulky data glasses, 2) VGA/XGA video output on handhelds/smartphones.

Obviously, one of the big issues is display size (tiny) of the handhelds/smartphones. It woulnd't take much to fix that. Number 2 is easy, just provide a way to tap the screen video output, like any modern laptop. Number 1, a decent set of data glasses/goggles, is more difficult, but still possible. VGA is basically here, XGA is close. Both are still a bit pricey for decent form factor and resolution. Yes, we'll be walking around like the Borg, but we'll be carrying a lot less than 7lb (or even 3lb) laptops.
Posted by dantso (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Data goggles+VGA out == revolution
The capabilities of handhelds/smartphones and laptop do indeed overlap to the extent that one can contemplate just using a smartphone for 95% of one's needs. The innovations that would really move this forward are: 1) Good, hi-res, not bulky data glasses, 2) VGA/XGA video output on handhelds/smartphones.

Obviously, one of the big issues is display size (tiny) of the handhelds/smartphones. It woulnd't take much to fix that. Number 2 is easy, just provide a way to tap the screen video output, like any modern laptop. Number 1, a decent set of data glasses/goggles, is more difficult, but still possible. VGA is basically here, XGA is close. Both are still a bit pricey for decent form factor and resolution. Yes, we'll be walking around like the Borg, but we'll be carrying a lot less than 7lb (or even 3lb) laptops.
Posted by dantso (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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