Gateway, which began taking orders on its new 3-pound E-100M notebook on March 30, is working to expand the so-called ultraportable category with the introduction of new features.
Ultraportables generally weigh about 4 pounds or less and have 12-inch or smaller displays.
But given their prices and some trade-offs—including the lack of internal optical drives, slower processors and relatively short battery life—they have traditionally made up only a small portion of sales.
However, being lightweight, as well as the introduction of wide screens, WWAN (wireless WAN) capabilities and longer-lasting batteries, are all complementary functions that are useful to users of ultraportables.
It follows that as WWAN gains in popularity—and notebook manufacturers have just begun integrating WWAN hardware into their machines—so could the diminutive laptops that employ it.
They still arent likely to take over the market, but they could easily double in sales, rising from their traditional single-digit shipments, typically totaling 5 to 7 percent of units, to a weighty figure, one Gateway executive said.
Ultraportables are "positioned for growth now. Its very reasonable to suggest that this segment could be twice as large as it is now," said William Diehl, vice president of product marketing at Gateway, in Irvine, Calif.
"People are starting to understand the benefits of mobility," Diehl said. "When I say mobility, I mean form factor—thin and light [weight]—wireless—with Bluetooth, wireless LAN and wireless WAN—and, lastly, battery life. Wireless is useless if the battery doesnt work."
Thus, given the recent explosion of notebook sales, the addition of WWAN service, and buying patterns that see many buyers purchasing smaller machines the second or third time around, it follows that lighter machines are likely to become much more popular over time.
The E100-M, Gateways first ultraportable notebook offering since 2002, includes a 12.1-inch screen, a low-power Intel Core Solo 1300 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a multiband Wi-Fi module for its $1,399 base price.
Some compromises are still required, however. For one, E100-M owners must use an external optical drive. Gateway offers an optional external DVD-R/RW drive for $199.
The company will offer consumers and small businesses a version of the same machine, the NX100.
Gateway on March 30 also added a new M255-E notebook, which offers Intel Core Duo processors, along with a 14.1-inch screen. It starts at $1,349, according to Gateways Web site.
Meanwhile, the company plans to announce a WWAN strategy in the near term, Diehl said, hinting strongly that might it offer WWAN service with its new E100-M.
"Its something thats going to change and redefine what notebooks are all about," he said. "This is the next thing thats going to change user behavior."
By offering such a service, Gateway would join Hewlett-Packard, Dell—which this week announced two Latitude models that incorporate WWAN hardware—and Lenovo, which offers Verizon Wireless EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) service in certain ThinkPad models, including its X60 ultraportable.
The E100-M wont be immediately available for purchase online. However, customers can order it by calling Gateway, Diehl said.