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Small trumps thin in notebooks

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One of the benefits of being someone who gets to use a lot of different mobile devices is the conversations these devices start with those interested everywhere I go.  Whether I am in a coffee shop or a business meeting pulling out one of my mobile devices invariably starts a conversation with those around me who are wishing they had a good device to use in their own work.  Most of the devices I’ve carried around and used a lot are convertible Tablet PCs that are good notebook computers in addition to the Tablet stuff and that is what catches most people’s attention.  Everyone is familiar with notebooks and how they look and work and that is what most people have in their mind when they think about mobile technology they can use in their own life.

MbaSince the introduction of the MacBook Air (MBA) a lot of conversation has taken place about how thin it is and how that is what people looking for notebooks want for themselves.  I have said in the past that I don’t think that thin is the primary attribute that people want in a notebook and the many conversations I have held with regular people drives that point home to me time and again.  I base this observation in large part due to the reaction that folks have to the different convertible notebooks that I carry and use.  It is interesting that no one ever says to me "how thin that device is" even though most of the notebooks I am seen using certainly qualify.  Not MBA thin of course but definitely thinner than most notebooks out there.  No, most people notice the overall size of the notebook and other features it may have.  The Tablet bits intrigue almost everyone who find that could be useful in their own work but no one ever states that thin is important to them.  Features, price and overall size carry the day in these conversations.

Cimg0398I do find that the smaller the notebook is the more attention it grabs from others, a point driven home since i have been carrying the Fujitsu P1620 every day.  The Fuji is not that thin compared to other notebooks I have used but the small size starts a lot of conversations and I find that many do feel that a small notebook could fit their work and that definitely interests them.  I hear a lot of people state that the small size would make it so much easier to carry and travel with and when they see that feature-wise it has few compromises the reaction is very positive.  I have seen that same reaction every time an Asus EEE PC enters the room.  Of course when I swivel a screen around for Tablet work it blows a lot of people away no matter what device I am carrying as most have never seen one in the real world.  Just about everyone comments that the Tablet features could aid them in their mobile work but no one feels the thinness of the notebook is a big deal.  So based on my interaction with real people I can state that small trumps thin in the notebook world, and Tablet trumps non-Tablet too.  I will be very interested to hear some real sales figures from Apple after a while to see how many of the MBA they are selling.  While everyone I talk to thinks they are sexy not many have indicated they intend to buy one or that the thinness would aid them very much in the real world.

20 Responses to “Small trumps thin in notebooks”

  1. Metatone

    A key misunderstanding I see is that people are trumpeting the MBA sales as proof of the design as an “ultraportable concept.”

    The reality is that Apple’s notebook line has been missing a smaller than 15″ “Pro” option for quite a while now. Lots of people have been holding off, struggling along with the old 12″ Powerbook, waiting for Apple to throw them a bone.

    That’s a big part of what is driving sales. Yes, it’s cool design, thin and light, but a major part of sales is that it’s faster than a MacBook, or an old 12″ Powerbook and it’s smaller than a 15.”

    For myself, I had refused to make the switch to Mac until a number of things changed, and one of those was “a proper laptop, smaller than the 15 inch models.”

    Of course, I’m still holding out for the 3G iphone with Exchange/outlook task syncing. And I’m kind of wondering if a tablet wouldn’t be what I really want anyway, which puts Apple back out of the running…

  2. Hm…I wonder why no one can agree with you ‘just’ 100% ? Maybe it’s inflation getting out of control.

    Anyway, I also agree with you in the most part. Thinness by itself is just not that big a deal for most people. I think the choice people make is usually a tradeoff between overall size, weight and functionality (I suppose you could add ‘looks’ to this list, as that is clearly the most important issue for some people!). And of course under each of these headings there may be some sub-categories.

    So it goes back to what you often say (or maybe it’s Kevin who says it…), that different devices will suit different people and you have to make your own choice of kit based on how you intend to use it.

    For me, I’ve gone through many shapes and sizes of laptop over the past years, and have ended up with a ‘big-ish’ Sony SZ for my normal daily use at my home/office, and currently an Asus EEE PC for when I’m out and about. The key for me was getting the weight down for my ‘outdoors’ machine, but not losing too much in terms of battery life and connectivity options. The EEE PC is a great fun little machine, and (with XP on it) it does pretty much everything my bigger Sony does, albeit somewhat slower.

    A slight niggle is the screen size, so I am eagerly looking forward to the 9-inch screen version in a couple of months!

  3. ArchiMark

    James, agree with you 101%…

    While I think the MBA is a very nice sleek looking device (and you can even store it in a manila envelope too…) for me it’s much more about the size/weight/design form (convertible table PC style…) than worrying about how thin my laptop is….even if it’s thin it still takes about the same space in my carrying bag…

    Maybe, that’s why my most recent purchase was the U810 and the one before was the OQO E2 and before that the Kohji SH6 and before that….well, you get the idea…..


  4. JK, I love you man, but I love my MacBook Air more. I’ve used a Samsung Q1 as my main device and I bought the HTC Advantage. I like small gadgets, but I love that my MBA is thin and light to carry yet I have a large screen and full size keyboard to work with. I am a CPA and I work with a lot of scanned documents, spreadsheets, and tax software. Working on a spreadsheet on a small screen is like looking through a porthole in a Submarine. I don’t care if anybody else buys a MBA, I’m just glad Steve Jobs made one for me.

  5. tinotino

    I, and many others who actually use UMPC has been saying exactly the same thing ever since MBA come out. Thinness is not people want. And then I saw the MBA being sold out news I just don’t believe them.

    Look, if Apple is marketing MBA as a premium product like a Mercedez SL then its a different story. But Apple is not targeting that niche so I think MBA is a wrong product with the wrong compremise.

    Also the lack of 3G is a joke. It’s like a Mercedez SL without roadside assistant service. How do you figure that?

  6. Donovan

    “thin makes a HUGE difference, especially if you’re (a) carrying the thing around all day”

    What does thin have to do with carrying something? Weight and small size are the key here, not the thickness. A bulletin board is thin too, doesn’t make carrying it around all day any easier.

    From another blog –
    “Tackling the 13.3″ widescreen form factor into an ‘ultraportable’ offering was a design decision on Apple’s part, but while there is definitely a market for it, I believe they’ve missed the mark for many ultra-mobile users. Thickness is a factor in the buying decision, but once that’s within reason, footprint is much more important. Let’s take the Sony Vaio TZ Steve Jobs compared the MacBook Air to. While the Air is undoubtedly thinner, it also has a much larger footprint, to the tune of around 1/3 more desk or surface area. Let’s be honest here – the TZ isn’t exactly fat at 0.8″ to 1.17″ thick. I can understand the obsession with thin in mobile phones – you may easily slip that into your pants pocket, but are you planning on stuffing a 13.3″ form factor laptop into your pocket? I think not.”

  7. Chris K

    I think the dirty truth is that the big secret is *volume,* not footprint vs. thinness. There’s a balance, and the MBA isn’t it for a lot of people, being a bigger overall system than even the previous Sony TX, displacement-wise.

    If the MBA were a wee bit thicker (still no more than an inch, tops,) but with the footprint appropriate for an 11″ widescreen laptop, it would be far more interesting. Likewise, if the Sony TX/TZ, or the Fujitsu P1620 were any thicker, they’d also fail. Nowadays, for example, no one would buy a Toshiba Libretto. It’s got a tiny footprint, but it’s too damned thick.

    Find the balance between the two. Shrink the computer on all dimensions.

    Additionally, a slightly thinner TC1x00 would be a really nice system. Think about the comfort level in handling a Nokia Internet Tablet versus the significantly thicker OQO. Both have similar footprints, but the thinner N810 is more comfortable to use and carry around. (It would also be far less powerful, but I’m talking strictly about form factor here.)

  8. I disagree, and particularly for slate tablets – thin makes a HUGE difference, especially if you’re (a) carrying the thing around all day, and/or (b) using it to write on a flat desk or conference table, where being an inch off the table puts you at an odd angle or with your wrist or hand or forearm resting on the hard edge of the device.

    If NEC made a new/modernized LitePad, I would buy one instantly.

  9. Simon Coulthurst

    Interesting! Just a week ago I went through this thought process. ‘I really would like a new portable PC mainly for home use. I have a very powerful Vista laptop already. An Asus Lamborghini device with a 17″ screen. But often as not, what I want to do at home is just look through my database of DVDs, or browse the Internet, or make a quick note. And firing up my Asus takes an age, mainly as it is also my work PC and has lots of software I need for work on it.’

    So my reserch started, and eventually I put down the order for the ‘super’ Mac Air (the one with the SSD and 1.8GHz processor. Three days later, before it shipped I changed my mind and ordered the Vaio TZ32. Nothing to do with price, they are almost the same. Nothing to do with weight, again almost the same. It was simply that I thought, ‘The Vaio is physically smaller (not thinner, just smaller) and I want something that doesn’t dominate my lap when I’m using it.

  10. spinedoc

    JK I have to agree 110% with you. I have a 1610 and have compared it to my brothers airbook. While the airbook is very nice looking, it is just too large for me! We won’t even get into the slippery surface that just feels like it will fall out of your hands any second.

    For me I write daily notes anyway on the tablet, so the airbook would have never worked out. But if you make the 1610 a little bit thinner (as I’m sure the 1710 will be), and maybe find room for a DVD it would be the best machine of all. I remember my Sony TR2, it was almost the same size as the Fuji, but it had a DVD drive.

  11. Let me repeat the comments I made at gbtm site. I think the type of laptop that can get most great benefit by thinness is a tablet pc. I also had NEC litepad and it was a real joy to write on. Poor battery life and underpowered CPU killed it, but I really love the thin form factor. I will be all over MBA if Apple will revise it into a tablet one.

  12. Rockville

    Forgot a couple items:

    1. Active Digitizer for those of us that love to hover.

    2. Thin. Remember the NEC Tablet… It can be done, especially with current technology…

    3. Resolution. Dont’ make the Shift mistake..

    I agree with everyone else, Thin is Great, but not without being Light Weight…

  13. Rockville

    The market for the portfolio replacement tablet pc should be a great market. It would be great for professionals that are running around in meetings all the time, students, amongst others.

    I don’t want to carry a notebook or pad of paper around.

    Add to this device a business card scanner and one of those small pen scanners. Not bad…

    Add a detachable or mobile phone bay and that would be even better.

    Weight should be no more than 2.5lb. Screen somewhere between 10 and 12″.

    Built in EVDO, Wifi, Bluetooth, Wireless USB (just for laughs)…

    2-4 GB RAM.

    attachable or wireless mobile keyboard…

    a couple USB ports..

    If we spec it they will come….

  14. I totally totally agree for my use case. i have ordered the 1620. I will say, obviously a lot of people will not care. In my company which is a consulting company, you should see the huge laptops my developers lug around. They look at my small tablet devices and just shake their heads. My brother who is head of development for a drug company just shakes his head at my effort to be paperless and take all my notes on a tablet. But for me, with a truely mobile lifestyle, smaller is better. A thin but big laptop, still takes almost as much room in my bag, still is hard to use in the car by the side of the road, still is hard to balance in my lap in a meeting, still take a lot of room on the conference table when in a meeting in slate mode. Give me small. If it’s really thin, it’s killer and I think we’ll get there too.

  15. Ahhh crap. Too too true.

    I think you just pushed me over the edge.

    I’m going to order the P1620, and sell the P1610, if anyone out there is interested in the loaded P1610, in perfect working condition let me know!

  16. It’s not that I don’t think thin is important, because I do.

    I just don’t think it’s any more important than any other dimension of a notebook/tablet. To me, the overall space that a device takes up is important.

  17. James you are 110% correct! The Macbook Air may fit into one of those large inter-office envelopes, but I can fit TWO P1610/20s in that same envelope. Steve Jobs doesn’t get it. Thin is not the most important attribute in notebooks. Size and weight are (at least he got the weight idea, but made too many sacrifices to get there).

    I watched the Apple keynote bloggers in real-time this January and we all nearly choked when we saw the size of this thing. Other than thickness, it is almost identical in dimensions to the 15″ Macbook Pro. It’s absurd. I was ready to jump ship to Apple if they had brought out something roughly the size of the Sony TZ Steve Jobs so smugly compared themselves to (while totally missing the fact that the TZ is so much more computer in a smaller package).

    Everyone is amazed by my P1610, and Fujitsu has gotten a number of sales due to my demonstrations for people in factories, airports, etc. People don’t realize that companies are perfectly capable of making small, lightweight laptops because all they ever see in the chain stores are 14-17 inch, 5-9 pound monsters.

    Bill, you say you disagree with James, but it seems to me you actually do agree with him. Your ultimate device being an updated, slim TC1100 gives it away. You value smaller form factor too. Why would you choose a 10″ slate to make thinner? Why not one of those oversized 14″ tablets out there? Or even a 12″ tabler? Because “small” matters to you too.

    Yes, I wouldn’t mind a thinner notebook/slate at times, but *never* at the expense of size. I’ve been using small form factor latops too long to give up those attributes.

  18. James, i couldn’t disagree more. Thin matters to me more than most other things. My dream device is 1/4″ tc1100 form factor. Said differently, just give me a bigger iphone. At 1/4″, a tablet is the thickness of a notepad and i believe inking gains broader acceptance. Perhaps just me but i would never bring any existing slate to a meeting-too geeky. MBA will be a test case for thin. By the way most mainstream users are still lugging 1.5″,5.5 lbs. units-hardly a discerning test group but obviously the bulk of the market. Great site.

  19. Totally agree – especially given the (almost) identical conversation I’ve just had with our IT guy – He was thinking of a UMPC or P1610 (which I have) as he’s just been on holiday, and had gadget withdrawal whilst away – he sees the smaller form factor (not necessarily thinner form factor) as being a big plus.

    Telling him about the P1620 has only whetted his appetite…