Rugged Notebooks: Just how tough are they?

Rugged Notebooks: Just how tough are they?

Stunt-like marketing for rugged notebooks is often entertaining in an offbeat kind of way. But with varying levels of ruggedness and a lack of clear standards, does this approach actually help the channel?

Swing that notebook around your head by a cable. I dare you. Well, actually, it's more like the vendors are daring you, double daring you, and if you don't they just might do it for you. Or they could throw wine at it, ask a famous rugby player to drop it and stomp on it, go scuba diving with it or just drive the car over it a couple of times. Seem a bit extravagant? Perhaps, but they've done it before and will happily do it again; check their commercials if you don't believe me.

In fact, for many makers of rugged and semi-rugged notebooks it's all part and parcel of testing and marketing. It's a way to not just distinguish themselves from the geekier end of the IT town and show their toughness, but to highlight some results of extensive research and development. And even if you aren't convinced you need a rugged notebook after all this stunt work, the sheer entertainment value of the commercials is worth the watch.

But if you are considering one of these tough little machines or take an interest in the sector expect to see many more of these Jackass-esque demonstrations as the technology evolves and notebooks continue to be popular with an increasingly mobile population.

"I think it [the use of demonstrations] does help, it's maybe regrettable in some ways because some of it is true and some it is not true," principal at notebook distributor Tegatech Australia, Hugo Ortega, said.

"There is always a twist of how much of it really reflects reality. But it does work, sincerely it does work. And the reason it works is that people are now more mobile than ever before."

Panasonic group manager Toughbooks, John Wood, agreed and said that with the advent of networks such as Telstra's Next G, many workforces - including those at Coca Cola and several mining outfits - have been driven outside.

"They want their workforce to be outside and they want them to have product that doesn't break as easily as normal notebooks do," he said. "What we are finding is that there is a lot more awareness of the specific requirement to be outside."

But in accord with this new mobility has been a gradual evaporation of the level of care taken when handling PCs and notebooks, and thus vendors are pushing their ruggedness.

"When people handle PCs these days they are not handling them with kid gloves like they did five or 10 years ago, they handle them just like a notebook you would write in with a pen," Lenovo A/NZ business manager desktops and notebooks, Otto Ruettinger, said. "They put them down on desks, they carry them by the corner, and so on."

According to IDC, notebooks accounted for more than half of all PC units shipped in Australia during the first quarter of this year. While the rugged and semi-rugged varieties have not been as strong as mainstream notebooks, several companies have reported solid growth including Panasonic, Pioneer Computers, Tegatech Australia and platinum distributor of the General Dynamics Itronix range, Avantec.

"We have probably received up to 15 per cent of our overall revenue from rugged notebooks this year while last year it might have been 2 per cent," Tegatech's Ortega claimed. But while the sector is expanding, there are some important distinctions to be made between what is and is not a rugged notebook.

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