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Portable Computers

Portable computers are the newest and fastest growing segment of the computer market. Toshiba alone sells 25,000 a month in the U.S.; the total U.S. market is about 120,000 a month. Worldwide, Toshiba alone has sold almost 2 million units [21].

Portables are divided by size into palmtops, handhelds, notebooks, and laptops, and they are further divided by whether they have a keyboard. Notebooks are 3-ring notebook-sized (21 centimeters by 30 centimeters and 5 centimeters thick) or smaller. Today they weigh between 2.5 and 4 kilograms, but that is dropping rapidly [4].

The new pen-based notebooks are about 2.5 kilograms. They are about the size of a thick magazine and dispense with a keyboard by reading the user's handwriting. In 1991, the second year of pen-based computers, there are already 33 companies producing pen-based computers.

Notebooks were introduced 2 years ago and already are beginning to extinguish laptops; the notebook market is growing by 20 percent a year. There are now 125 different portables and every month brings a new model, with new features, and lower prices. Notebooks will quickly drop to 1 kilogram--lighter than 8 millimeter camcorders--then, along with camcorders, they will drop even lower.

Many portables have the same computational power as a desktop computer, and prices are high, typically in the range $2,000 to $6,000, but that is dropping rapidly. By 1994 notebooks may weigh under 1 kilogram and cost $2,000. By 1996 they may weigh less than a paperback and cost $1,000.

The big problem with portables is the batteries needed to run the disc player. As with camcorders (and for the same reason, except in camcorders the power drain is caused by the tape transport), currently batteries last only 2 to 3 hours. But that time will increase when memory cards become cheap enough. And the same will be true of camcorders; it is not necessary to produce an analog recording, and on tape to boot. Two AA batteries, the same power used today to run a television remote control, can run a portable with a memory card instead of a power-hungry disc drive for a week.

In July 1991, the Zenith MastersPort 386SL, priced at $5,000, improved enough to extend battery life to 8 hours. The U.S. Army immediately placed a $50 million order. The MicroSlate Datellite 300S is touch-sensitive and keyboardless and runs for 8 hours, but it needs 2 12-volt batteries to do so. It costs $6,000. The Dataworld NB320SX has a smaller screen and only 2 hours of battery life. It costs $2,300.

next up previous contents
Next: Desktop Computers Up: Appendix: Electronic Book Technology Previous: Flat-Panel Displays
Gregory J. E. Rawlins