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Analysis: The future of laptops revealed

How will your laptop look in 2011?

Because organic displays emit light rather than reflect it, the screens provide significantly better outdoor viewing than most current notebook LCDs, which wash out in sunlight. Flexible organic displays are also more or less unbreakable, says Robert Street, a senior research fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). "That would be a huge benefit in notebooks, especially in ruggedized models," he notes.
The problem is, manufacturers haven't figured out how to affordably mass-produce them yet. (Last October, Sony announced an 11in OLED TV display, priced at about £900.)

Building affordable organic displays into laptops will require transforming laboratory techniques into affordable processes for volume production. "We think that an inkjet printing-based approach shows great promise," Street says. He says it may be only a couple of years before the first notebooks featuring organic displays begin appearing on the market. Some notebook vendors say the wait for OLED's debut may be more like four years.

Energy Crisis

Dim displays can be annoying. But poor battery life may be the biggest gripe among notebook users today- and unfortunately, there's no brilliant new battery technology waiting in the wings.

Why are laptop users so cranky about batteries? For starters, while battery technology has progressed markedly over the past several years, powerful microprocessors, wireless transceivers and other enhanced components have more than gobbled up those energy gains.

Lithium ion remains the current gold standard for notebook batteries, and notebook makers say they're not expecting a successor that supplies more notebook power without driving up system weight or size anytime soon.

Instead, today's laptops makers are focusing on other power-saving techniques, such as intelligently throttling back the power to various laptops components.

"I'm not anticipating any significant change in battery technology in the foreseeable future," says Brett McAnally, senior manager of Dell's Latitude notebook PC product group. "To provide longer battery life, we'll have to look toward optimising devices by analysing user behaviour and saving power consumption wherever we can," he says. "Right now, that's the best approach."

Stepping Up Security

On the security side, most IT managers still live in fear of lost notebooks. But that's changing, as encryption and options like fingerprint readers become easier to manage and more powerful.

Xavier Lauwaert, VAIO product manager for notebook maker Sony Electronics, predicts a growing number of notebooks shipping in the next few years incorporating advanced biometric devices, such as voice-recognition systems and webcam-based retina scanners. "Enterprises that handle a lot of private information, such as banks and insurance companies, will consider these technologies a rather inexpensive investment when compared to the risks involved," he says.

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