The second most common tools road warriors use are laptops, which represent a growing percentage of the 49 million computers shipped in 2002, according to research firm IDC. E-mail and Internet dependence drives laptop sales, explains iGo product manager Andy Szeto. "People need access to the Internet and e-mail. Even when traveling for pleasure, they take their laptops so they can check their e-mail," he says.
As they shrink in size and weight, machines are growing in power. A midrange laptop, for example, boasts a 2GHz processor, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, and 128MB or more of memory.
They are also running longer on batteries. Low-power consumption processors as well as lithium-polymer battery packs mean that some laptops can run up to eight hours on a single charge.
Laptops may be two to three times as expensive as desktops, but they're still less costly today than they were a few years ago. For $1,100 or so, travelers can get a basic laptop; twice that will get them a top-rated model that offers most of the extras, including the hottest new feature for standard laptops, built-in chips for communicating with wireless LANs.
The most talked-about development is the introduction of PCs based on a new version of Microsoft Windows called Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. These devices let people enter text using their own handwriting while providing the power of a laptop. Though clipboard-shaped PCs have been around for years and have met with a lackluster reception, Microsoft is gathering support from mainstream laptop-makers such as Hewlett-Packard, NEC and Toshiba.
This time will be different, Purdy predicts, as tablet- makers enhance the networking and communication capabilities of these devices. Eventually, he says, "the three devices people will carry with them will be the tablet PC for taking notes, the handheld with voice and data and the notebook that [creates] text."