The laptop is not dead, it’s rising from the ashes

Is the “clamshell” laptop dead? With all the euphoria surrounding the latest generation of tablets and smartphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the humble laptop – or notebook PC, as many call it – is going the way of the mainframe. Since when did the launch of a clamshell notebook make the national TV news? How often do you see queues of eager shoppers stretching round the block to buy a new laptop model on its first day of sale?

The short answer is no, when it comes to business, the laptop is most certainly not dead – and in fact we are seeing it rise from the ashes, freshly rejuvenated. This has happened thanks to the rise of the all-conquering smartphone and tablet, because the humble laptop has now adopted the best attributes. Today’s new-generation laptops for business professionals come with much-improved user interfaces, while touchscreens are going mainstream, devices power-up in a few seconds, and battery runtime is longer than ever.

In the case of the enterprise laptop, what does not kill you makes you stronger. Much has been made of the tablet and the smartphone teaming up to kill the laptop: and in the consumer space, it’s certainly looking that way, as laptops sales have fallen off a cliff. But we are also starting to see a blurring of the lines between consumer tablets and smartphones with the so-called “phablet”, which is either a large phone or a small tablet, depending on how you see the world.

Over in the world of business-to-business, where Fujitsu is focused, the laptop is alive and well. Sales are steady. Why is this? It’s not because tablets have failed in business environments, in fact, far from it – actually they have carved out a market segment of their own. However, when it comes to business, where time is money, it’s all about the right tools for the job. And let’s face it, there are some pretty serious shortcomings that are holding businesses back from adopting tablets as mainstream work devices. In the main, these center on fundamentals such as tablets being fit for the task, as well as usability and native access to applications. After 20-plus years of dominance, many businesses are heavily invested in Windows-based environments, and no matter how much hype is in the market, this will not change overnight.

This is because companies need software that is configured to help them run their business. Most professional apps run natively in Windows. Simply put, this means the full user experience and productivity is better on a Windows notebook. Although tablets are undoubtedly king of the hill when it comes to consuming content on the go, business people still reach for their laptop when it’s time to roll up their sleeves and do some serious work. In comparison to a tablet, a laptop makes enterprise applications easier to use, they run faster, and of course the laptop has a bigger display: there’s only so much you can do when squinting at a 10-inch or even a 7-inch screen.

In business use scenarios, there are further “soft” factors that will continue to tip the balance in favor of the laptop, not the tablet. These include manageability and security features that today’s tablets don’t generally have – for example, smartcard readers, fingerprint sensors, and even remote management. Also, thanks to the huge gulf in productivity between a tablet and clamshell device with a built-in keyboard, most businesses will be taking the option that maximizes employees’ output. Tablets will still be used if they serve a purpose …if the tablet fits, use it.

As users struggle to make a fashion device fit their needs, so the tablet is evolving. What’s ironic is that this evolution is into a laptop-like device! Accessories such as Bluetooth keyboards and mice, plus connections to external displays, are helping narrow the margins between high-end tablets and Ultrabook laptops. Yet, if you put a tablet in its keyboard folio cover side-by-side with an Ultrabook, you’ll see that the laptop is now the thinner and sleeker of the two.

One thing should be very clear: I’m certainly not standing in the way of technological progress. I’m an avid Fujitsu STYLISTIC tablet user, alongside my Ultrabook. And in fact our newest generation of laptops, the Fujitsu LIFEBOOK E Line, are more usable than ever. We’ve incorporated tablet-like features such as touch and support for gestures on the touchpad, while battery life is now in the same range as a tablet.

For people who are still torn between laptop and tablet, we’ve introduced a new hybrid device, STYLISTIC Q702, which further blurs the line. Is it a laptop, or is it a tablet? The smart answer is: It’s both. Docked, it’s just like a regular clamshell Windows notebook, with touch. Undocked, it’s a fully-featured Windows tablet.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between what’s a phone or a tablet, or what’s a tablet or a laptop, so enterprises are starting to move back towards a “two device” strategy. There are simply not enough business reasons to justify issuing every employee with three devices.

Consequently, we expect that the laptop has a secure and healthy future ahead of it. It may be having a mid-life crisis, but we expect new models to be easier to use, faster and of course thinner than current offerings.

I’ll end by misquoting Mark Twain: Reports of the laptop’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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    Sean Drng
    May 28, 2013

    Let’s not forget the terrible ergonomics of phones/tablets and laptops. While some may think that giving their users a tablet is a progressive move, it can backfire if you don't include decent docking solutions and peripherals. Just look around the workplace and see how many people are hunched over their devices (often with a docking station pushed aside on the desk). With solutions like Microsoft’s VDI, Citrix’s XenApp and Google Apps becoming more accessible, many of these content consumption devices are starting to be used more for content creation and that necessitates a rethink of how these devices impact on staff health.

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