In contrast to the many product categories in the IT industry with a not-so-rosy outlook, notebooks currently stand out as a hot hardware item. This is particularly so for the latest P4 processor-powered models, of which end users and resellers simply cannot get enough.
Brett Winterford's page one News Analysis piece this week talks of notebook sales being up 43 per cent and Toshiba achieving record months this year as the business PC shifts from the desktop to the laptop.
There are many reasons why this transition is taking place, including mobility, flexibility and the much smaller footprint. Rapidly improving price-to-performance ratios are also being offered. Notebooks were once merely status symbols, but the products are now far more mainstream and are a realistic option for everybody considering a new PC purchase.
Without doubt, this booming demand is to some degree at the expense of traditional desktop PCs. To what extent is unclear, but one reseller I spoke to last week relayed a situation that may be occurring in many end-user sites.
His client, a small enterprise employing 90 staff, bought 60 or so new white-box PCs in 1999 to ensure its environment was Y2K-compliant. Since then, there has been an across-the-board memory upgrade, a new accounting package and some other security/antivirus tweaks, but not much else has changed on the client's local area network.
The technology requirements of this user haven't changed, and the business hasn't grown dramatically in the three years since the white-box purchase. All attempts to entice the client into buying a new round of PCs have failed. "Things are working quite nicely just as they are, thank you very much", and "we have no funds to replace all the PCs" have been the responses to repeated pitches with new technology.
However, the reseller (who requested anonymity) has already this year sold a dozen or so high-end notebooks to the customer for its executives, sales managers and group leaders. In general, these staff have above average usage and more complex computing requirements.
It seems that in this particular client site, making the senior staff better connected with flexible, powerful hardware while the coalface workers make do with the existing infrastructure is the preferred option.
The local IT industry has been relying on the return of the upgrade cycle. It has been three years since the huge expenditure on compliancy, firstly against the Y2K threat and then for the introduction of the GST.
Analysts such as Gartner and IDC are still predicting the second half of this year will start to see the three-year upgrade cycle kick in, and without doubt it will. However, there are many indications to show notebooks will be a significant part of the replacement spending.
For dealers, resellers, mass merchants and independent retailers it is now crucial to be au fait with the best of mobile solutions and to have secure supply lines of the popular notebook brands and models.
Meanwhile, traditional white-box assemblers, distributors and dealers should be seriously looking at opportunities in building or reselling the increasing array of unbranded notebook products.
Only a fool would suggest the desktop is dead, but the notebook is clearly an awakening giant. At present, however, notebooks are bogged down in the same price war besieging many popular hardware categories, which is making it difficult for anyone to make any great margin.
Nevertheless, the future still looks far rosier for those who can put together the right solutions to cater to the rising demand.