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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: August 2008

Thinking heavy, carrying light

August 2008
Brett Haggard

A new category of mobile computers is turning the conventional set of rules on their head. What is behind the super-light and super-cheap notebook craze?

Notebooks are so last season.
The new buzzword is 'Netbook', a term that defines a slew of scaled-down mobile machines that are light on the shoulder, light power consumption and most importantly, super-light on users’ pockets.
Yes, you heard right - price is finally a priority for IT vendors.
Take the machine that sparked this craze off, the Eee PC 701 as an example.
It sells for below R3000 and arguably does a ton more than some smart cellphones which carry a price tag that is double.
For business users?
When Asus showcased the first Eee PCs (http://eeepc.asus.com) at Taipei's Computex last year, the majority of the press attending the briefing sneered at Asus' vision of producing such a low cost, mobile computer with such limited capabilities.
After all, the hardware market has been driving performance levels and as a necessary evil, power consumption upwards since its inception. Everything about this diminutive machine flew in the face of what the rest of the market was saying.
Everyone seemed to think that the Eee PC would become a perfect competitor to the machine Nicholas Negroponte was building for the 'One Laptop Per Child' project and as such, that it would be a solution to address the need for computers in emerging markets like Africa.
In fact, it is possible that Asus itself felt that this was the perfect niche for machines of this kind.
Business indeed
Nobody, however, counted on the possibility that a machine powered by a 900 MHz Intel Celeron-M processor, 512 MB of RAM, anywhere between 4 GB and 8 GB of solid-state storage, built-in WiFi and a 7" LCD screen would become a popular business tool.
And furthermore for it to cause an entirely new category of mobile computers to rise up around it.
A year on from its design candidates being shown off at Computex, Asus is having to fend off competition from vendors like HP (with its 2133) and Acer (with its Aspire One), who have both come out fighting.
Why is such an underpowered category of computers proving to be popular with business users?
Well, for starters, vendors that build solutions for mobile users have to balance performance with battery life, size, weight and price.
The value proposition
Generally, small, light and powerful notebooks are at the top of the pile in terms of cost and as they become larger, heavier and less powerful, they tend to decrease in price.
Cloud computing has allowed for much of the information executives work with and the services they interact with to be accessible on-line.
That said however, there are certain usage scenarios (sitting on an aeroplane for example) where working access to these services is impossible. In this kind of scenario an executive would generally be able to get by, providing they had offline access to their e-mail store, calendar, word processing tool, or spreadsheet application.
Netbooks are the perfect devices for this kind of scenario - they offer mobile executives offline access to their information and productivity tools (albeit in a somewhat 'lite' fashion). When they are combined with a 3G wireless Internet connection however, they can expose users to the full power of the cloud. And that is where the value lies.
Netbooks are cheap (let us face it, R3000 is a steal), light and because of their use of low-end processors and solid state storage, are extremely power conscious - all of these features make them perfect for ultra-mobile use.
It is seldom that any one of us gets to witness the formation of an entirely new market segment and a discovery that is this disruptive and revolutionary.
Disruptive because it is changing the way people think about mobile computing; and revolutionary because it is certainly going to change everything.
The developments in this space are certainly going to be interesting to watch over the coming years.


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