Gartner: $100 notebook is several years off

Several projects, commercial, governmental, and charitable, have aimed at getting the price of laptops down, with $100 being the magical figure, but a new report from Gartner argues this won't be achieved for a number of years and isn't the right focus for now. HangZhou Night Net

The OLPC's XO PC was originally touted as a $100 PC, at the kind of low price that could easily put millions upon millions of laptops in the hands of third-world children. This would, its supporters claimed, cause a global renaissance, as computer exposure in the third world propagated technical education and other desirable skills in a worldwide cascade of economic development. Intel's Classmate PC had similar ambitions, although at a slightly higher price point. Both units, however, ran into price problems which raised their cost significantly. The XO, in particular, now costs almost twice as much as it was originally projected to. Similar difficulties have plagued the Asus' Eee PC, which was originally supposed to cost $200 and now costs $300 in its cheapest configuration.

Gartner projects that this scenario will continue for some time, and that the $100 laptop goal will not materialize for several years at least. Citing scaling difficulties and component costs, Gartner projects cost cannot fall more than 15 percent or so over the next few years. Even if this happened, the XO would still be sitting over $150 at that time, far short of its goals.

Instead, Gartner implores, the logistical and other details of the educational mission of the XO and its competitors should be explored and solved. A myopic focus on getting piles of cheap hardware out the door ignores, they say, problems of distribution, precise targeting of hardware to the needs of third-world users, and financing. Infrastructure for maintenance and repair, internet access, and appropriate curriculum development are also important. Focus on these ends will allow subnotebook vendors to better hit education markets with devices which can better help students, even if they are slightly more expensive than they could be, Gartner argued.

Since the beginning of the OLPC project, subnotebooks have spread into the consumer market in a big way, but Gartner seems to be predicting a strong degree of market segmentation between education and consumer devices. This is consistent with the present market; of available devices, only the Eee even remotely bridges the gap between consumer devices like the HP 2133 and education models like the Classmate PC and XO. Some frustration has emerged that OLPC hasn't sold the XO commercially, though, so this segmentation might be artificial.

Gartner is optimistic about the ultimate future of the platform for all kinds of users all over the world. "We expect to see increased product innovation in the PC market during the next few years," said Gartner research director Annette Jump. "Mini-notebooks will create opportunities to reach many buyers across all regions, both in mature markets as additional devices, and in emerging markets as PCs."

Subnotebooks have a glorious future ahead of them, but buying into it will cost more than one Benjamin.