15-Inch Notebooks to Storm the Market in 2004

Led by Apple, 15.4-inch WXGA displays will move into the mainstream of Windows-based laptops in 2004. At less than $1,500, these systems will represent the year's best value for the general user.

With a nearly vertical trajectory, demand for desktop LCD monitors and TVs has pushed production to radical levels; the economies of scale have resulted in incredibly low cost LCD panels.

The most aggressive form factor as we move into 2004 is the 15.4-inch panoramic display, which lets users put more work onto their screens. Laptop users first saw this display on an Apple PowerBook, and it became a secret lust for many Windows laptop users when Apples Titanium laptop line was released.

The rapid ramp of LCD TVs and monitors using this display has made panels of this size into the strongest bargain in the market today. It was only a matter of time before Wintel vendors recognized the market opportunity and moved on it.

Wintel notebooks built around this panel have been available from a number of vendors for the past quarter; Dell was the most aggressive in terms of price and initially validated the products sub-$1,500 price range. In 2004, expect to see the competition heat up substantially as vendors from HP to Gateway turn this size and price range into the new battlefield and this form factor into the new standard for the general employee.

The first products to move at these price points will be the offerings targeted at the small to medium business market (Dimension from Dell, Presario and Pavilion from HP). But as competition increases, the prices will drop dramatically for enterprise products as well.

If you are in the process of setting up a bid specification for 2004, strongly consider using the 15.4-inch WXGA screen as the base specification, and set price expectations at $1,500 in quantity without extras. For that price youll get a Pentium M processor (1.4 GHz or better); Windows XP Pro; 512MB of memory; a 40GB Ultra ATA hard drive; an Nvidia or ATI video system with 32MB of memory or better; CDRW Combo drive or DVD burner (depending on configuration and vendor); and a USB memory key or floppy drive.

There are several justifications for this new form factor. First, because it crosses over into so many different products, it represents the strongest value in the market today. Second, its aspect ratio means it can be used as two displays, making it vastly more efficient if the user is looking at material and using it as a reference for what they are writing. (Increasing the efficiency of an employee without increasing the cost of that workers hardware is considered a good thing, particularly as the economy rises and employees are asked to shoulder new workloads.) And, finally, this form factor is large enough to avoid the need to invest in an external monitor.

With HPs merger complete, Gateways reorganization complete, Acer expected to take the North American market by storm, and Dell unlikely to want to give up its market-leadership position, 2004 is likely to see some amazing prices for new hardware. The 15.4-inch notebooks will be bellwether for this battle and should represent the years best value for business and consumer notebooks.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.