Pick up one of the latest smartphones, and prepare to be dazzled: It may have a color screen, IM, a voice recorder, e-mail, Web access, an MP3 player and a camera. So what can't it handle? Most of your work while you're away from the office. You may have heard buzz about smartphones signaling the end of the laptop. The reports of the laptop's death, however, are greatly exaggerated. While smartphones and PDAs are useful, "they are still not replacements for mobile PCs," says Leslie Fiering, research vice president at technology research and consulting firm Gartner Inc.
Handhelds let you skim short e-mails and jot quick replies; but with a laptop, you can read long messages, download files, or create documents. If anything, laptops aren't dying-they're proliferating. As laptop PCs now compete with desktop PCs in power, sales keep climbing. By the fourth quarter of 2003, laptops accounted for 27.9 percent of U.S. PC sales; and that figure will climb to 45 percent in 2007, IT and telecom firm IDC predicts.
But we can't rule out the possibility that smartphones may one day encroach on laptop sales. Smartphones such as Research in Motion's BlackBerry 7510 and Motorola's MPx200 worry laptop vendors, says Kevin Burden, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. The BlackBerry comes with e-mail and a browser, and runs Java applications; while the MPx200 can run Windows, includes e-mail and browsing, and works well with Microsoft Office applications. PC vendors are concerned about competition for the "ultraportable" computers that carry high price tags and good profit margins. Laptop makers are also keeping an eye on an upcoming wave of Ultra Personal PCs, full-powered PCs the size of PDAs coming from vendors like Antelope Technologies, OQO and Vulcan.
While smartphones get fancier, some enhancements come at a hefty price, Burden says. Bigger screens, for instance, still require bigger batteries. Breaking through such barriers will require major progress in a number of smartphone components. "Vendors are waiting for the technologies to grow up at the same time," he says. "Eventually, someone will push the envelope."