HOME Technology 2005
Notebooks break price barrier
Market competes on features
Notebook computers are about to become more friendly and intuitive with plans to embed PDA style screens in the outer cover so you can access basic data such as calendar, contacts and even play music without having to RAM up.

They’ll come with a more rapid wake-up from sleep state, improved battery life and even wifi projection capability to share presentations. These next generation products are likely to co-inside with the release of Microsoft’s new Vista Windows operating system late next year.

Meanwhile the market is in highly competitive state, delivering a wide range of models priced as low as $1000. This was a direct result of the PC price wars, that from the third quarter of 2004, sparked a downward trend in notebook prices.

Since then notebooks have remained in a strong growth phase, according to research company IDC. Acer led the way down, followed by Dell, until the $1000 price point was a benchmark. In 2003 there were only 13,223 units imported, by 2004 the number was up to 49,171 and in the first half of 2005 there were 39,600 units shipped with notebooks rapidly catching up to desktops.

Certainly the market is getting crowded with the brand names Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Acer, Dell, IBM, Sony, NEC and others scrambling for their slice of the pie, and now the so-called ‘white box’ OEMs (other equipment manufacturers) are getting into the game in a big way.

The mainstream companies invest heavily in their own designs and independent technologies. However as the Taiwanese factories boosted their skill levels and production capabilities with help from Intel they were soon churning out ‘vanilla’ product for the Asia Pacific market alongside the branded notebooks. Until recently Australia and New Zealand had been protected from this incursion but this year they’re here and competing hard.

Dell and Acer are keeping their prices down and looking to maintain their edge at the entry level and higher end, forcing other players to compete by adding value. HP believes the battle to get notebooks into the public mind has only just begun and there’ll be a lot of promotion now that people are becoming more mobile in their lifestyle. Its entry level units are $1000-$1500 mark.

Its Pavilion models are being targeted at the youth market with entertainment features including QuickPlay which enables DVDs and CDs to be played without loading up the whole Windows environment. They also feature double headphone slots so two people can listen to music or watch movies without disturbing others.

The market is definitely getting crowded says NEC country manager Kher-Hwa Ling, "it’s a dog fight right now". NEC is relying on its own dual screen technology and security enhancements such as integrated fingerprint recognition. Its also investing in future developments such as the ‘water cooled’ notebook which will eliminate fan noise and keep higher powered, hotter chip sets at the right temperature. "We’re at the forefront of fuel cell battery technology which currently gives five hours of life, including a disposable double A battery sized replacement that in the future could deliver 40-hours," says Mr Ling.

Notebooks today are no longer poor cousin to the PC. They have similar specifications, although hard disk capacity is likely to stop at around 60Gb unless you’re going for the high end. All except basic entry level notebooks have wifi on them which is ideal for the increasing number of homes that have wireless networks, and for logging in to public hotspots such as those being promoted by Telecom at cafes and public locations.

  Back2front      General Interest Webzine