6 Ways to Make Notebooks Exciting Again

This week, we learned that smart phones are now outselling PCs for the first time. Though some say the rise of the smart phone is causing the death of the laptop, I disagree. What these sales trends tell us is that most people already own a notebook and don't see a reason to replace what they've got, while anyone with last year's top smart phone already feels ready for an upgrade. The problem with notebooks today is simply that most of the new models lack the killer new features that make consumers and corporate IT managers jump up and down yelling "I have to get me one of these!"

Sure, notebooks are getting faster all the time and a few now even have 3D, but unless you need bleeding-edge performance, your 2008-era notebook probably doesn't seem that dated right now (unless it's running Windows XP). If notebook vendors want to make people excited about buying their wares, they need to step up. Fortunately, I'm here with a list of killer features that will excite the marketplace and spur demand, both in the short and long term. They really ought to pay me for this kind of thinking, but I offer these ideas as freeware, because I just want to have a notebook that offers:

  • Dual Screens: I have dual monitors at work and dual monitors at home, but when I go on the road, I'm stuck with a single screen. Lenovo tried its hand at adding a tiny second screen that pops out the side of the behemoth Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds, and Onkyo/Kohjinsha released a netbook with dual 10-inch screens in Japan, but neither of these was portable or affordable enough for the mainstream. Everyone knows that having a second screen boosts productivity significantly. So, if someone got this right, it would be a huge incentive for users to buy.
  • Wireless Power: When oh when are we finally going to be able to power our systems over the air? We've been hearing about WREL (Wireless Resonant Energy Link) technology for a long time now, but so far nothing has happened. The moment when we can sit in the middle of a room and have power streamed to us from the wall is the moment when today's notebooks become obsolete.
  • True All-Day Battery Life: For years, we've been promised "all-day" battery life, but the definition of a day must have changed, because apart from netbooks, most notebooks we see don't come even close to lasting a full day of computing life without being plugged into the wall. Even exceptional systems such as the MacBook Air and the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 only last about 8 hours at 40-percent brightness and battery life is even shorter when you're playing video or popping in a 4G modem. What's needed here are not only power-efficient components, but also higher capacity batteries that can really deliver the juice.

Unfortunately, there's not a ton of innovation taking place in the battery space, as lithium polymer cells grow only slightly in capacity every year and most experts I've talked to say that alternative technologies such as fuel cell are years away. But bundling larger batteries with systems and pushing the envelope on cell density would help a great deal.

  • New Input Methods: Back in the 90s, notebook vendors experimented with different types of pointing devices, from the trackball to the pointing stick to the pop-out mouse on the HP Omnibook 3000. Apart from a handful of business notebooks that offer pointing sticks, today we're stuck with touchpads on every system we use. In the past couple of years, we've seen a number of notebooks move to buttonless clickpad designs, but nobody dares to experiment with different input devices because everyone is afraid of offending consumers.

First, stop playing it safe and release more systems with pointing stick; they provide much greater accuracy than touchpads and allow users to to navigate without moving their hands off the home row. Second, start experimenting with different input options, from gesture controls to D-Pads.

  • Real Instant-On: We've been hearing about instant boot for years now, but most systems still take anywhere from 45 to 60 seconds to boot. Yes, you can put your computer to sleep and wake it quickly, but that's not always practical. Apple really set the world on fire with the 15-second boot time of its new MacBook Airs, and Lenovo seems poised to release a number of notebooks with 10 to 15 second cold boots as well. Let's get this down to 5 seconds or less.
  • SSDs as Standard: Very few notebooks today come with solid state drives as standard; instead they are an expensive customization option. However, a new generation of mSATA drives can fit in as your boot drive while leaving room for a spacious hard drive, and we hope this becomes standard. This hybrid solution certainly helps with boot and file opens, and it could excite users if they found out that they could open a bulky program such as Photoshop in just a few seconds or a light program such as Word immediately.
Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.