A lot has happened in the laptop market in the past six months, with mobile retailers, such as Carphone Warehouse, now offering laptops as a part of heavily subsidised packages.
As 3G becomes more prominent, interest is gathering for people that are looking to stay connected. A lot of people are thinking ‘I can do a lot more with this technology’.
There are a lot of devices out there and the market is creating new segments of mobility. The market is going through a change of usage patterns as mobile phone manufacturers design different flavours of connectivity.
Although you can connect to the internet with mobile phones, the experience is more limited than on laptops. Smartphones can only offer a certain level of interaction, for example, viewing attachments on email is more challenging on a phone. With laptops connecting to 3G we can bridge that gap.
The market is moving fast, and laptops with embedded Sim cards are becoming more common; however, USB data dongles will coexist alongside the embedded solutions. They are ideal for the occasional user, but for the business user, embedded connectivity offers another level of benefits.
The marketing of USB data dongles and connecting to the mobile network on a laptop has been amazing, and the growth in that market has been huge.
Toshiba is also looking into new ways of utilising wireless technology. We recently signed a deal with Ericsson to buy modules that connect to HSPA networks, and which are also GPS enabled.
There is a cost for manufacturers to add 3G connectivity to laptops, but the cost has come down significantly over the past year. As with all technology, when we reach meaningful volume, prices start falling. The idea is to have 3G in every notebook. We are not there yet, but the noises we are hearing are promising. It’s probably a couple of years away still.
There are two sides to the connected laptop market - the business and the consumer segments. Vodafone and Orange are dominant in the business sector, and 3 has the highest share of the UK consumer dongle market.
Laptops connecting to 3G are definitely a mass-market proposition, but the market will open once the prices start coming down. We are watching this space very closely, and looking to see if there is a position that we could put ourselves in.
3 is doing a great job in taking its product to the mass market. The price point at which they are offering mobile broadband subscriptions is very attractive, and its recent move to bundle laptops with subscriptions will enable us to sell more laptops.
Working with retailers in the mobile industry offers laptop manufacturers new channels to market. Carphone is a good example of how mobile retailers create new business for us. We are constantly forging relationships with different types of retailers.
The market is still immense, with the ratio of mobiles to laptops at 10:1. We are seeing strong growth in the market - it has been in double figures for a few years already. Consumers see laptops as necessary although the economy is cooling.
The way laptops are used is changing, which means the devices are also changing. One of the essential features for laptops used on the move is an increased battery life and this is an area Toshiba is focused on. We are working on making three to four-hour batteries.
Ken Chan is a product manager for laptops at Toshiba