In fact, the distinction between netboook and laptop
computers may have already disappeared. Some analysts, including Mathias,
already lump them together. Tablets, likewise, may be morphing into notebook
computers more than supplanting them. The touch screen and multitouch
technology that's already being used on the iPad and on a variety of smartphones
is pretty much a sure thing for laptop computers. Touch screens have been
around for years, and so have tablets that can switch between being laptop
computers and using touch-sensitive screens. The biggest difference that's on
the horizon will be the adoption of some of the technologies that have seen
success in the tablet and mobile world. For example, Apple's iPad uses the same
operating environment as its iPod Touch. HP's rumored Hurricane tablet may use
Palm's WebOS. These new environments will also bring their user interfaces and
media display capabilities.
Another area that's already making the transition from
mobile devices to notebook computers is solid state storage. While rotating
hard disks will clearly be around for a while because of their low price and
high capacity, their days in the world of mobile computers, including laptops,
are numbered. Solid state disks are immune from the moderate shocks of daily
mobility, and also use less power, which in turn allows for greater battery
life. Some netbook computers and a few notebook computers already offer solid
state storage as an option, but rapid growth in that area is held back by the
cost of providing large capacity solid state storage. While the cost will
certainly change in the near future, solid state storage is still a ways out of
the general run of portable computers.
In the shorter term, however, it's starting to look like a
few of the trends that are already showing up in consumer laptop computers have
started to make their way into the enterprise as well. In addition, notebook
computers will diversify even more than they already have, with desktop and
workstation replacement devices becoming more common. In addition, according to
Carol Hess-Nickels, HP's director of Worldwide Business Notebook Marketing,
you're going to see big changes in industrial design.
Hess-Nickels said that new business notebooks will feature a
variety of colors, but in addition will be thinner and lighter than what we're
used to seeing. Taking a page from the netbook approach, she said that optical
drives for laptop computers will become optional to save weight. She also said
that durability is growing in importance, and that more laptop computers will
feature metal cases. Hess-Nickels also pointed out that enterprise notebooks
will need to feature a long lifecycle (the reason for the emphasis on
durability) and security features such as built-in encryption and biometric
Communications, both within the enterprise and externally,
is growing in importance for laptop computers, and while wide area wireless
support is already part of some laptops, it's a feature that will be growing.
The wireless capabilities will include GPS
functionality that will enable GIS software
and will also help in recovering lost or stolen devices. Hess-Nickels said that
battery life is improving to as much as 24 hours between charges with new
processors and better battery technology.
And tablets will come to the enterprise but will supplement
rather than supplant laptop computers. They will be very important to health care,
insurance and education, and to some extent will provide capabilities similar
to the iPad while retaining the capability to be a secure, functioning
There is, of course, a series of improvements you may not
see in the new laptop and tablet computers to come. Hess-Nickels said that HP
is trying to satisfy the business needs to be as environmentally sensitive as
possible, an effort that's becoming common in enterprise notebook computers.
She said this includes building machines that are recyclable, are free of
environmental contaminants such as mercury and are manufactured in an
environmentally sound manner.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÃÃÃs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.