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Analysis: The future of laptops revealed

How will your laptop look in 2011?

The Obesity Problem

Like a growing percentage of the population, notebooks face an obesity crisis. Vendors must respond to increasing performance demands while keeping their products from inflating to unacceptable dimensions.

To balance the parameters of weight and size, battery life, durability, security and performance, laptop vendors must work as carefully and precisely as a Swiss watchmaker. And to counter bloat, vendors are looking to lighter materials, more highly integrated components and new space-saving design approaches.

"Design is an overarching trend," says Enderle. "Dell has tripled the size of its design staff," he says, adding that Lenovo and Toshiba will continue to stand out among mobile vendors known for cutting-edge designs. "Design is becoming a key battlefield, and buyers will ultimately benefit by receiving more powerful and compact notebooks," Enderle says.

What kind of design changes are we talking about? Look for more case colours, more metals, sleeker designs, brighter displays, better speakers, better integrated cameras, quieter fans, lighted keyboards, secondary displays and more exotic screen hinges, Enderle says.

At the same time, a storage revolution promises to attack several notebook problems, including weight, speed and power drain, says Richard Shim, a notebook analyst at IDC. "Solid state drives - flash memory -will change notebooks by providing a medium that's faster, less fragile and more power friendly," he says.

During the next few years, solid state technology's biggest challenges - its high cost and relatively low capacity (the current ceiling is about 64GB per solid state drive) - should fade away, Shim says. "The benefits will be enormous," he says. "By getting rid of spinning hard drives, you will both boost the seek time and save energy."

Within three years, about 15 percent of enterprise-class notebooks will have pure solid state drives, predicts Jack E. Gold, president and principal analyst of J Gold Associates. "The rest will slowly transition to hybrid drives, where you have magnetics but also a front-end solid state component to speed them up, which also helps power management," he says.

A New View: OLED

Just as solid state memory could transform notebook storage, OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays could radically change the way users look at their systems. But this technology looks to be a bit further out.

Compared to conventional LCDs, organic displays are thinner, brighter and less power hungry. The technology already serves a niche market-small, high-quality displays for mobile phones and media players. Notebook-sized 10- to 12in organic display prototypes shown by Sony in early 2007 offer an eye-pleasing 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.

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