Many vendors and resellers witnessed a significant slowdown in mobile sales during 1995. While some may have attributed this to a downturn in the acceptance of mobile computers, there were actually a number of factors which caused the lacklustre year.
According to IDC industry analyst Bruce McCabe, in the couple of years leading up to 1995 the mobile industry witnessed a general growth of 30 to 45 per cent year on year. This was evidenced in both units shipped and revenues. One of the major factors causing the slowdown in mobile sales during 1995 was, surprisingly, the introduction of the Pentium chip.
"First of all, a lot of users weren't prepared to purchase 486-based notebooks," said McCabe, "because they didn't want to end up with outdated technology earlier than necessary. Then again, the pricepoints were just a little bit high on the Pentium-based multimedia notebooks. What we saw then was users preferring to wait until the pricepoints came down, making it a more affordable technology."
It was this combination of pricey Pentium systems and potentially outdated 486 systems which led to a certain amount of confusion in the market.
Another of the factors which affected the market was the problems vendors experienced in supply. Compaq, for example, took until the second half of 1995 to commence supply of its Pentium-based notebooks, with other companies such as NEC, Toshiba and Apple also experiencing supply problems. "These supply delays may also have inhibited mobile growth during the year," said McCabe.
Yet, while the market may have experienced stunted growth during 1995, McCabe fully expects it to bounce back this year, with supply being more reliable and pricepoints coming down. Some of the big winners are expected to be the more high-profile mobile computer vendors. "Resellers should be prepared for an increased user preference towards brandname products," said McCabe.
Putting it in context
One of the companies which is bound to benefit from this preference is IBM PC Company. The company's marketing manager, David Bolt, told ARN that those resellers focusing on the mobile market as one in its own right are the resellers who are benefiting most. "It's these resellers," he said, "who are the ones getting repeat business. And there are greater profits in repeat business rather than one-off sales."
Bolt believes that opportunities for resellers depend on their ability to provide customers with a "solution sell". "They have to be able to walk in to a customer and show the benefits of mobile technology in context with that customer's business.
"Let's assume a reseller has an advertising agency either as an existing or potential customer. If that reseller displays a mobile computer which has full screen and MPEG playback capabilities, then they've effectively demonstrated the system in context with that customer's business."
According to Bolt, much of a reseller's success in the mobile market depends on their ability to demonstrate and explain to a customer the return on investment for mobile technology. "This is a pretty basic sales technique," he said. "The reseller needs to show that the mobile computer is much more than just a replacement for a desktop system. For example, they provide the flexibility of being able to take a complete working environment from the office to the home, or from one office to another.
"In our own company for example, all our sales personnel are equipped with mobile systems and all the tools they need to ensure they have a complete working environment when they're on the road."
Bolt also has advice for resellers with customers who are working within fairly tight budgets. "One of the big issues right now is upgradability, and this can work to the reseller's advantage. If you can't justify the cost of a mobile computer for all the customer's mobile workforce, discuss the possibility of supplying a single machine for, say, three people, and three removable hard drives; one for each team member. That way, when someone goes out on the road, they only have to plug in their own hard drive, and they have their own environment with the files they need."
The ability to provide a range of customers with mobile solutions to fit their needs relies on the reseller's access to the "right tools for the job". Providing the standards for many of these tools is the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association), an international standards body and trade association with over 500 member companies.
According to the PCMCIA, its purpose is, "To establish standards for integrated circuit cards and to promote interchangeability among mobile computers where ruggedness, low power and small size were critical".
The result of the PCMCIA's efforts is witnessed in the proliferation of PC Cards otherwise (and incorrectly) known as PCMCIA cards. An increasing number of companies are supplying PC Cards for a variety of uses in mobile computing situations. The best place to obtain an up-to-date listing of these companies is by visiting www.pc-card.com/pcmcia4.htmBy providing your customers with the right tools, you can also ensure they have the ability to realise the full potential of their mobile computers. Unfortunately, there still remains an uncomfortably high number of resellers who look at the mobile computer only as a fully and totally independent system. While this is fundamentally true, a growing number of users require access to remote files and data. It's the reseller's responsibility in these cases to ensure the customer is able to access this data regardless of their geographic location.
One of the better known software products for this particular type of application is Traveling Software's LapLink, available for Windows 95, Windows 3.x and DOS. On the hardware side of things, Motorola has been offering a wireless modem for some time now, and PC Card modems from Netcomm and other modem manufacturers are readily available.
The demand for the implementation of other technologies has brought about both hardware and software products from companies competing in the mobile market. While not all of these are specifically designed for mobile systems, the growth in the market has ensured they are not restricted to the desktop. Pen computing is one such example. Even though its initial development was long before any strong surge in mobile computing, developers now see the mobile market as the most suitable for their products.
Certainly one of the most important mobile tools is the CPU, and chip manufacturing giant Intel is lending its considerable weight to the push. In October last year, Intel introduced its Pentium 120 for notebooks which the company stated will accelerate the trend toward integrating advanced desktop features in mobile systems.
As the number of mobile-related tools is increasing, so too is the market acceptance of mobile computing. Resellers should see the mobile market as the ideal one to practise the "value add" component of their business. Examine the market for new mobile products and explore how they will be able to assist your current customer base, or how they can be utilised to expand it.
Although it's ultimately the reseller's responsibility to make their own sales, discuss your and your customers' mobile needs with the mobile computer vendors. In many cases you will find that vendors have released products which are more suitable to particular mobile-specific applications than others. If you're to provide your customer with the right solutions, start taking advantage of the vendors' sales personnel. It's in their interest as well.
1996 is being touted as the year of the mobile. Ask yourself the question: "Can I afford to miss out?"
The PC World PC 50
Soon to be published by IDG Communications is the 1996 PC World PC 50. This publication will provide an overall picture of the current PC industry, and describe how the mobile market is performing within it.
Available towards the end of March and based on research by IDC, The PC World PC 50 is the most comprehensive analysis of Australia's PC industry generally available to the community.
It is free to all purchasers and subscribers of Australian PC World.
To keep up to date with the latest notebook computers being made available, Australian PC World also features the top 10 PC and notebooks in every issue.
Tel: (02) 439 5133 Fax: (02) 439 5512
Vendor supply problems
High cost of Pentium multimedia systems
Hesitation to purchase 486-based machines1996 factorsImproved supply by vendorsMove towards brandname productsLower cost of Pentium multimedia systemsAppeal of entry level systems to home market