New Delhi: It’s what computers have become,” says Nokia’s latest advertisement for its N95 “multimedia computer”— the Finnish company’s aspirational description for its high-end phones.
Computer makers, such as Samsung, Asus and the Taiwan-based High Tech Computer Corp (HTC), may soon have the same thought about their own computers.
Weighing between 500gram and 1kg and with screens one-fourth the size of a normal laptop, the latest computers hitting the market look more like phones than computers.
“The idea is to have a PC small enough to function as a phone, Internet and entertainment device while you are on the move, but can be transformed into a full-fledged PC by plugging into a full-size keyboard and monitor after you reach your office or home,” says Timothy Brown, international marketing manager for Taiwan-based PC chip maker Via Technologies Inc.
With bigger rivals, such as Intel and AMD, focusing on processing power, Via made a strategic shift three years ago to focus on developing more power-efficient chips. The company and its partners have in the last few months, launched more than half a dozen such models in the US and East Asia with price tags of $850-1,500 (Rs35,000-62,000).
However, it is the planned launch of Intel-based mobile-PCs over the next few weeks that is likely to increase the number of such models in the market. “We will be launching our own mobile PC by early July in India,” says Ajay Sharma, head of the Indian operations of HTC, the largest manufacturer of Windows-based mobile phones in the world. The company, which used to do outsourced manufacturing for brands such as i-mate and Dopod, was the first to release the specifications for a complete Intel-based PC phone last month when it announced the launch of its ‘Shift’ model.
Samsung, came next when it announced the specifications of its own version, the Q1 ultra, a week ago in Korea. Priced between $800 and $1,500 in Korea, the Q1 is to hit the market in the next few weeks. While Samsung has no plans to officially launch the product in India, HTC’s model is expected to retail at the higher end of the price band, excluding import tariffs. Other manufacturers partnering with Intel to launch such devices are Asus Tek Computers, Fujitsu Microelectronics and the Haier group. Both Intel-based models, like Via-based ones in the market, target the corporate laptop-users with options such as the full Windows Vista, XP and Linux operating systems, on-board miniature keyboard with support for full-size, plug-in keyboards and monitors. But the models may also appeal to the multimedia and entertainment-hungry youth as many of them also have high-speed connectivity with built in 3G and Wimax terminals.
However, despite obvious advantages like the ability to double up as your home and office PC after connecting to full-size monitors and keyboards, the ‘phones’ face a major challenge in the form of a power-hungry PC architecture. While both Via and Intel have supplied the manufacturers with what they call low-power chip sets, the products have a battery-life of only three to five hours, partly due to the huge seven-inch LCD displays.
Neeraj Gill, Intel India’s director for enterprise solutions, says the original PC hardware and operating system, designed for plugged-in use, has to be modified along the lines of mobile-phones where power requirement is kept a minimum using ‘sleep states.’
“It will take a year for us to come out with a PC small enough for the pocket, but still able to have enough power to last the whole day,” he says. Intel is working with a host of partners, including Microsoft and Linux vendors, to both reduce power usage at the hardware level as well as at the software and operating system level. “Besides the chip set itself, we are looking at reducing power drain by trying to design a system where the multiple radio sets involved, including GSM, 3G or Wimax, Wifi, Blue-tooth etc. can be automatically turned off when not in use,” he added.