Time to upgrade?

16 Jun 2008

The checklist of the tech-savvy consumer wishing to upgrade to a laptop includes always-on connectivity, ultraportability, affordability and security.

Now that first-time buyers of computers have become a rarity, we are entering the era of the prosumer: someone who has already owned at least one desktop or laptop and is now in the market for an upgrade.


“Trendy techies would like to have you believe that consumer laptop sales are being driven by the popularity of YouTube and Flickr and all those sites dominated by sharing, uploading and downloading media,” says Oliver Carey, country manager for Toshiba Ireland.


“But affordability is the key. There is effectively no price difference between the desktop and the laptop so they are within reach of just about anybody.


“There aren’t many first-time buyers left. Many people might have bought a desktop PC and found themselves too restricted by that even if it is a family computer because the ease of moving the laptop from room to room is very attractive especially in combination with a wireless internet connection.”


For the laptop user always on the go the trend of the ultraportable notebook with a solid-state drive is increasing, adds Carey.


Of any single change in the arena of mobile computing connectivity is probably the highest on the agenda, says Fiona O’Brien, country manager for Lenovo: “The issues of both Wi-Fi and 3G are most pertinent.


“The likes of Gartner have been saying for a long time to step away from embedded 3G capability in a laptop because you cannot justify the expense of the upfront purchase cost.


“However, Gartner itself has rethought that and is now saying that in actuality embedded 3G offerings for laptops is ready to go. The mobile operators are offering more aggressive packages. The 3G service itself is stable so you will not have a problem with upgradability on the notebook.


In fact internal 3G modems are performing significantly better than external ones in terms of signal strength, says O’Brien, and we are seeing a huge move forward in terms of connectivity and wireless WANs (wide area networks).


This connectivity on the move does throw up problems in terms of security, says O’Brien: “If your laptop is constantly connected, who is to say that somebody isn’t hacking into it?


With the embedded security subsystem chipset on Lenovo laptops there is also a high level of encryption, but O’Brien says ultimately some responsibility falls to the user: “You should be using the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) key you are given and set a strong password. The combination of a smart user and the Lenovo security subsystem provides for a very secure offering.”


Like O’Brien, Jude Lynch, sales director for O2 Ireland, believes that connectivity, specifically mobile broadband, is one of the most important developments surrounding the laptop and indeed business communications.


According to a recent survey commissioned by O2, there exists plenty of potential for growth in adoption of mobile broadband among Ireland’s small and medium-sized enterprises.


The study finds that more than one third (35pc) of SME owner-managers who use a PC or laptop are thinking about getting mobile broadband, while 14pc of senior managers already surf the web from their laptops with the help of their mobile broadband connection.


“This suggests that Irish SMEs recognise the benefits in terms of convenience, productivity, responsiveness and greater control.


“We also know from our research that the trend towards teleworking is on the rise amongst SMEs, with almost half of SME owner-managers working from home at least one day a month, and 29pc doing so at least four days a month,” adds Lynch.


While we all know that mobile broadband cannot currently give the same speed as fixed line, the flexibility it offers in terms of connectivity on the go is what the laptop owner desires. So, what are the basic demands of both the home user and business user on the go?


“Always-on connectivity is the key requirement: customers, whether they are businesses or consumers, need to be able to rely on the quality of the service they’ve signed up to.


“For example, NewsTalk 106FM trialled O2 Broadband amongst its reporters during the General Election in May 2007,” says Lynch.


Between public Wi-Fi and mobile broadband sometimes achieving a strong always-on connection for real-time working can be a challenge, especially in areas with spotty coverage.


“Mobile workers suffer a great deal with connectivity and reliability issues because most applications are not robust enough for real-time working and it is important that solutions implemented can cope with these issues,” says Lesley Muir, spokesperson for Zetes, a firm that specialises in wireless and mobility solutions.


“Using a mobile VPN [virtual private network] helps improve the situation for users. A 2008 study by the Yankee Group on e-worker trends stated that no two mobile workforces are the same and their requirements for mobility are highly diverse, which Zetes, as mobile specialists, would certainly agree with.”


Security may seem like a job for the software and hardware firms but what about the issue of pesky commuters peeping over your shoulder at your laptop screen?


“If you are a commuter and need to work on sensitive documents you cannot afford the risk of someone taking a look at your notebook screen,” says Richard Burton, Ireland & UK distribution manager for mobile and laptop accessories firm Targus.


The privacy screen from Targus is a best seller that only allows someone in the direct line of vision to see the laptop screen while those behind or to the side cannot.


By Marie Boran