Notebooks to Get Wider Faster

The luggable PC may be in for a comeback. But instead of the suitcase-like predecessor to the laptop, future luggables may be more like televisions, thanks to a trend toward larger and wider LCD panels.

Editors Note: This story is part of , a continuing series of stories from the reporters and editors of Ziff Davis Internet. Instead of the usual mile-high look at the year ahead, these articles examine particular technologies and markets in transition, including whats in store for them.

The marriage of notebook PCs and televisions may be at hand thanks to a trend toward increasingly larger and wider LCD panels in portable PCs.

Wide aspect ratio LCD screens, such as the 15.4-inch panel, have been appearing in many notebook lines for consumers and corporations for several years. But now, thanks to increases in both the numbers and sizes of wider panels available, wide-screen notebooks are could begin out shipping standard screen notebooks as soon as the middle of next year, a new report by International Data Corp. says.

Most of the wide-screen notebooks, whose 16:9 aspect ratio allows them to present more data by better accommodating documents or windows arranged side-by-side or to show a DVD movie without black bars on top and bottom, will offer familiar sizes, such as 14-inches, 15.4-inches or 17-inches. But some models will come with even larger panels, pushing the limits of what most defines a notebook: its portability.

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"Everything is going to wide screen, because its what panel makers want—it allows them to fully utilize the mother glass [or the giant slabs they cut each individual panel from at the factory]—and notebook makers want it because they can charge a premium," Richard Shim, an IDC analyst and the reports author, said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.

Although there will be some holdouts at first, including the 15-inch display in low-price systems, the firm believes that by 2009, more than 80 percent of notebooks will offer wide-screen displays. Portable shipments will continue to rise in that time period as well, jumping from 62.5 million units this year to 114.6 million in 2009.

Consumer and corporate purchasing trends will play a part in the transition. Many consumers are choosing wide-screen systems for their entertainment value. Although businesses may lag, given that they tend to standardize on systems for a period of time, theyre expected to make the jump as well as premiums are relatively small and office workers can gain some benefits, such as being able to view documents side-by-side more easily.

Most workers are likely to receive 14-inch or 15.4-inch wide-screen machines, while engineers or accountants, who require graphics muscle or room for spreadsheets, might receive 17-inch wide-screen machines. Frequent travelers are likely to receive smaller machines with 12-inch wide screens.

Manufacturers are already offering 14-inch, 15.4-inch and 17-inch wide-screen notebooks to corporations and consumers. Top brand names such as Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Gateway Inc. and Lenovo Group LTD, all offer the wide screen in their various notebook PC lines. Apple Computer Inc. also offers a 15.2-inch and 17-inch wide screens in its latest PowerBook line.

The companies are already seeing customers, including businesses, seize upon the wider screens.

Following a recent product refresh, "80 percent of our professional customers went to wide [screens] almost immediately," said William Diehl, vice president of product marketing at Gateway, in a recent interview with Ziff Davis Internet. Thus "were already shipping predominantly widescreen. Thats what folks are looking to use."

However, much larger panels are in the offing, and could spawn a new generation of television-like transportable PCs, based loosely on notebooks.

LCD panel makers, including Samsung Electronics Co. and LG.Philips LCD Co., are pushing the envelope of manufacturing efficiencies and thus are preparing 19-inch and 20-inch notebook screens, respectively, which could lead to a new wave of transportable computers, Shim said.

These transportable PCs, which could come out between the middle and the end of 2006, will most likely be too heavy or awkward to carry in a brief case or a backpack. Thus theyre likely to be fitted with TV tuners, digital video recorder features and to be marketed as multimedia-proficient desktop replacements.

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Shim predicted that consumer-oriented manufacturers such as Sony Corp. or Toshiba Corp. might be among the first to offer these types of computers, and even then in small numbers.

Sony, for its part, has already melded a large LCD-screen with a fold-up keyboard in its Vaio W Series and experimented with television-like PCs in its Vaio V Series desktop, for example.

"These are good segments for notebooks to play in despite the fact that you might think that those [screen] sizes are unreasonable," Shim said. "Theyll be utilized in households where space is a commodity, such as Japan and big cities in the U.S."

Todays big screen notebooks have captured relatively small numbers of customers in markets such as retail in the United States. But they have been an important product for PC makers as they command higher prices.

The NPD Group, which tracks retail sales in North America, says 17-inch screen notebooks accounted for about 6 percent of notebook unit sales in September, but 9.3 percent of notebook revenue. The 17-inchers averaged $1,723, well above the average selling price of a notebook, which was $1,116, the firms figures show.

But marketing a 20-inch screen notebook as simply a giant-screen notebook may not resonate as well with consumers, said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD.

Instead, playing up the machines abilities to show content in a multitude of different spots around the house would offer at least "some level of utility for consumers," Baker said.

"This concept of a portable is more a competitor to small form factor desktops," he said. "If were going to have people beaming [content] around the house, there really isnt any reason why someones 19-inch TV in the bedroom couldnt be based on a notebook. The best way to think of them is another screen in the house."

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