Quick, name the top PC vendors. Wrong. Try Formoza, Kraftway, Aquarius, R-Syle Computers and K Systems. They dont sound familiar? They would if you were shopping in Moscow. And the biggest vendor of all in Russia, according to IDC researcher Robert Farish, is the neighborhood white-box assembler, which accounts for 85 percent of the market. The PC market, by the way, is doing quite well in Russia: It grew 17 percent last year and will grow 15 percent this year, to 2.5 million units annually, according to IDC.
The purpose of the quiz wasnt to test your knowledge of worldwide PC markets but to take a step back from scrutiny of the jockeying of Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer in their seesaw battle for No. 1. Dell, according to IDC, trumped HP worldwide in the first quarter, which saw total worldwide shipments reach 34.6 million, up 2.1 percent year to year.
Selling nearly 35 million of anything in the current economy seems like a decent business to me, yet the meager growth rate always spurs much hand wringing from analysts and computer vendors wondering when the next great wave of tech spending will be unleashed. But not one to trust my own opinion, I went to our advisory board—the eWEEK Corporate Partners—to ask them what the attributes are that would give a desktop or laptop the wow factor.
“Reliability, reliability, reliability. Most of my laptop users are executives who go on the road only when necessary. When they get there and cant work, I have a problem, not them,” said Sam Inks, director of IS at Atlantic Research, in Gainesville, Va.
“Were giving server blades serious consideration for our NOC,” said one Corporate Partner, asking for anonymity from fear of being barraged by vendor salespeople. But blades are cutting quite a figure on the client side as well. See Francis Chus review of ClearCube Technologys latest for more information.
“The wow for me is primarily form factor and weight. I assume sufficient speed, resolution and things like wireless, etc. Battery life is a so-so issue since Im usually by a plug. If I get a couple of hours, Im happy. I also like automation for updates,” said Robert Rosen, CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, in Bethesda, Md.
“In the past, you moved en masse to your next standard. Now, I think youll need a mobile/light standard, a tablet standard and a power-user standard,” said Fran Rabuck, president of Rabuck Associates, in Philadelphia.
And joining a complaint Ive long had … “I dont see why laptop vendors dont implement what Targus is going to release soon,” said Carl Ashkin, CEO of the Darby Group Companies, in Westbury, N.Y. “They are about to release a Universal power supply that will take input power of AC 120-240 volt, 50/60 cycles, as well as DC 12-15 volt. This would allow for me to use one single power adapter in hotels, cars, planes, etc.”
And three quick items from Kevin Wilson, product line manager for desktop hardware at Duke Energy, in Charlotte, N.C.: Much better support for digital flat panels, USB keyboards and wireless controls on the keyboard.
While features alone wont build a market, having the right features can provide a reason to champion an upgrade. Just low-balling the competition wont get you there. It didnt surprise me to see Toshiba doing so well in the recent IDG PC rankings. After a period of confusion, Toshiba has focused on laptop and mobile users, leading to double-digit growth over the past year. The companys now in the United States top five.
When I asked Oscar Koenders, vice president of product marketing for Toshiba America, what the next step is in laptop and mobile evolution, he noted he was returning my phone call via voice over IP from a PDA. The convergence of mobile computing and voice over IP has both the return on investment and wow factor needed to spur technology spending in these uncertain times.
Among the long-shot bets Id keep an eye on are smaller-form-factor boxes for the desktop, the aforementioned blade computers, and, yes, Linux-based desktops and laptops may find some traction in the corporation. But that traction wont come from selling speed or even lower price but from vendors proving their systems are indeed more reliable, flexible, safer and more efficient at both an operating and service level.