Sunday, 05 June, 2005

Laptops outsell desktops in May

It's not terribly surprising to find that laptop computers outsold desktops, but I didn't expect it to happen quite this soon.  The article points out that laptop prices have dropped 17% in the last year, whereas desktops have dropped only 4%.  Laptop quality also has improved, as has battery life.  Combined with very good video performance, large hard drives, and CD burners, laptops today are more powerful and less expensive that top of the line computers were three or four years ago.  Add wireless capability (95% of today's laptops have wireless) and the near ubiquity of free wireless access in most of the U.S., and it just makes sense to buy a laptop or notebook computer.

A laptop makes a whole lot of sense for a home computer even if you won't be traveling much.  My Dell Latitude is just slightly larger than a book.  It takes very little space on my desk, and I can very easily disconnect it and put it in a drawer or on a shelf out of the way.  Since I installed a wireless router, I can also take the computer to any room in the house or even outside by the pool if I want to do some leisurely reading or play games away from the office.  Debra can put her laptop on the kitchen counter to follow a recipie if she doesn't want to print it.  I can do research while I'm watching the brew pot, or shop for car parts while I'm out in the garage working on the Mustang.

Traditional desktop computers still have their uses, although the large footprint and high power requirements make them much less attractive.  Desktops these days seem to be clustered at the edges:  sub-$500 entry level machines, and high end performance machines.  I still find my old desktops useful as lab machines, and I suspect that many like having a fixed server for file and printer sharing, but for the most part the age of the general purpose desktop appears to be coming to an end.  Cheap USB hard drives and wireless printer nodes have almost eliminated the need for centralized computing in a home environment.

I'm interested to see what manufacturers do now.  Available computing resources, even in laptops, have surpassed most people's needs.  2 GHz is more than sufficient for listening to music while surfing the Web or answering email.  Or to watch a DVD movie in full screen.  I expect we'll see more people ditching their old desktops for laptops, but what then?  Where's the "killer app" that will require twice the horsepower and entice people back onto that three year upgrade cycle that drove the 90s tech boom?