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Future travel foretold: Lose your laptop, bring the handheld

Gartner analyst says smartphones will soon be enough for short business trips

February 5, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Relief may be in sight for road warriors weary of lugging 8-pound laptops from city to city, while packing another 10 pounds' worth of batteries, cables and peripherals -- perhaps even a portable slide projector for making presentations.

That kind of load can literally become a pain in the back for business travelers. But within two years, consumer-centric smartphone technologies will emerge to enable the development of lightweight handheld devices that support e-mail, word processing and even slide presentations, according to Nick Jones, a Gartner Inc. analyst who spoke today at the consulting firm's Wireless & Mobile Summit 2007 here.

"We've found many Gartner clients asking for something to replace the laptop on short trips," Jones said in an interview after his presentation. "Face it -- it's a brick that just sits there."

Already, traveling users can run e-mail and other applications on numerous handhelds. But the inability to run PowerPoint or other slide presentations off of the devices is a big problem, Jones said in his session. "Road warriors can do editing and e-mail on handhelds, but what usually kills you today is you can't project PowerPoint," he said.

But Jones predicted that as early as next year, handheld vendors will begin shipping devices with VGA output ports for connections to projectors. He said several handheld makers have put VGA outputs on their product road maps, including Taiwan-based High Tech Computer Corp. for its upcoming HTC X7500 device. 

"In two more years, there will be a good range of mobile laptop and mobile phone devices" to replace the conventional laptop for short business trips, Jones said. He noted that a typical traveler might expect to carry a smart phone equipped with Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity and a Bluetooth keyboard. 

In addition to more functional smartphones, Jones foresees the development of ultramobile PCs that are smaller than the smallest PCs now on the market. 

Bob Bracey, a systems integrator at Florida Technology Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., said he's very familiar with the cry from mobile users for fewer and lighter devices. "We hear that all the time," he said, adding that Florida Technology currently is working with a large company that is rolling out unspecified devices to about 5,000 sales workers.

Bracey said he's hopeful about the HTC X7500, which will have a screen about 5 inches wide -- making it larger than existing smartphone screens but much smaller than the ones on laptops.

Previously, the Sony Vaio notebook PC was sought by many business executives because it's lightweight, Bracey said. But carrying the peripherals that come with the Vaio has detracted from its appeal, he noted. In addition, the Vaio and many small laptops "still take too long to boot and have been fraught with other connection problems," he said, pointing to the instant-on capabilities of smart phones and other smaller devices as one of their big selling points.

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