my vision of a perfect laptop

Recent news about an updated ran­ge of HP Eli­te­Book (lap­top / note­book) com­pu­ters made me rea­li­ze that I should com­pi­le a list of things I’d like to see on future laptops.

My list, or should I say: wish­ful thin­king (but not uto­pia), does not inclu­de things that I don’t want to see on a lap­top, and isn’t limi­ted to mate­ri­al issu­es. Ins­tead, it’s my own rea­listic approach to that “good-guy”-thing they’­ve been tal­king about in IT sin­ce the very beginning.

Also, most of my obser­va­tions are based on the busi­ness ran­ges from Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP and also Acer. Some, if not all desi­red chan­ges are alrea­dy pos­si­ble and avail­ab­le in some parts, others pro­bab­ly limi­ted due to licen­sing or mar­ke­ting reasons.

First: I’d like to see a lea­sing approach on most lap­tops so that they can be recy­cled and be made out of bet­ter materials.

You as a user / cus­to­mer only pay for the use of the­se com­pu­ters. The manu­fac­tu­rer shall use this rela­ti­ons­hip and con­se­quent­ly use mate­ri­als of hig­her value which can be recy­cled (not down­cy­cled). This c2c clo­sing-the-loop con­cept is the basis for me on any pro­duct I like to purcha­se. I am not asking for “bio­de­grad­able” mate­ri­als on my com­pu­ter, but a good mix­tu­re of pol­lu­ti­on-free mate­ri­als that also won’t be toxic to any crea­tu­re. This is important. The­re’s alrea­dy so much toxic was­te out the­re and we spend a gre­at amount of time in front of a com­pu­ter every day. So the com­pu­ter should be made of non-toxic, recycable/reusable materials.

Having said that, the fol­lowing is my list. I con­si­der the dis­play and the keyboard/touchpad the most important inter­faces on a laptop.

  • Dis­play: very bright, should be read­a­ble in direct sun­light without pro­blems, high con­trast, ener­gy con­sump­ti­on should be very low, very good ver­ti­cal and hori­zon­tal viewing angles, mat­te (not glos­sy) cover, ratio 16:10, ~ WXGA+ is ok. Pro­bab­ly also with a touch­screen opti­on, which inclu­des that it can be tur­ned 180° around and flip­ped over (~ tablet computers).
    If this tablet opti­on isn’t inclu­ded, it should be pos­si­ble to open all dis­plays up to 180° (or similar).
  • Key­board: manu­fac­tu­rer should offer the choice bet­ween chi­clet and tra­di­tio­nal key­boards. Keys should have a uni­que pres­su­re point, enough width and no stu­pid lay­out “spe­cials”. But sin­ce opi­ni­ons on key­boards dif­fer a lot — some ppl still pre­fer the Think­Pad lay­out — the­re should be dif­fe­rent key­board designs for the same machi­ne. So tho­se who pre­fer the “FN” key in lower left cor­ner (ins­tead of “Ctrl”), should be able to chan­ge it. Eit­her via a hard­ware swap, or by using illu­mi­na­ted icons on the keys — simi­lar to Art Lebe­de­v’s Opti­mus Maxi­mus keyboard.
    The key­board should also be illu­mi­na­ted. But not via an exter­nal key­board light like the one found on Leno­vo Think­Pads or HP Eli­te­Books, but ins­tead an illu­mi­na­ti­on from bene­ath the keys — back­lit key­boards. See DELL Lati­tu­de and Apple Mac­Book­Pro key­board illu­mi­na­ti­on — tha­t’s the style I prefer.
  • Touch­pad and / or Touch­stick: users should have the fle­xi­bi­li­ty to pick what they like best. I per­so­nal­ly never use the touch­stick, others love it. Also, the avai­li­bi­ty of three but­tons for tho­se who need it (Linux users) is important — eit­her vir­tu­al wit­hin pre-defi­ned are­as of the touch­pad or phy­si­cal. And not only on 15″+ laptops.
    It’s so easy to inclu­de ano­t­her, third but­ton, so I am won­de­ring why not all lap­tops alrea­dy have three mou­se buttons.
  • Size: I like the 13″-14″ form fac­tor best! This way they are often light enough to be car­ri­ed around, acco­mo­da­te a full qwertz/y key­board and can still be balan­ced on your kne­es. 15″ is also ok with me for pro­gramm­ers who need the space on the screen.
    I used to belie­ve that smal­ler com­pu­ters are bet­ter and easier to car­ry, but in the end it does­n’t make a big dif­fe­rence if you have a 12″ or 14″ lap­top to car­ry around. It’s the extras that mat­ter here.
    I also belie­ve that A LOT of peop­le pre­fer a solu­ti­on like the Mac Book Air whe­re they’ll have the com­fort of an OSX com­pu­ter in a very light bund­le with an atta­ched key­board. Also becau­se more com­pu­ting power often isn’t requi­red. This may app­ly to tho­se who do their con­fe­rence hop­ping. Others who need their lap­top as their “main machi­ne” cer­tain­ly requi­re a real lap­top (hence my post here).
  • Body: the “HP Dura­ca­se magne­si­um alloy chas­sis” on my cur­rent HP Eli­te­Book is very nice and imo bet­ter than most Think­Pads or Lati­tu­des. I would not want to com­pa­re it with the uni­bo­dy alu­mi­ni­um chas­sis of recent Apple Mac Books becau­se tha­t’s a dif­fe­rent approach to manu­fac­tu­ring, not worse or bet­ter. I think the ide­al chas­sis sta­bi­li­ty depends on all other requi­re­ments. It may appe­ar that the uni­bo­dy struc­tu­re is the best (as recent Eli­te­Books also come with a uni­bo­dy-sty­led top cover).
    The aim for a dura­ble lap­top frame/chassis also inclu­des details like the clam shell design intro­du­ced with Think­Pads back in the days whe­re the dis­play cover would not only sit on top of the key­board (when clo­sed), but also clo­se the gap bet­ween the main­board and the dis­play, thus pre­ven­ting any obsta­cles from ent­e­ring into this area. I’ve seen that modern Eli­te­books (i.e. 8640p) have some sort of rub­ber lip tha­t’s sup­po­sed to do that. Inte­res­ting design.
    Some smar­ter engi­nee­ring should also be app­lied on the dis­play lock. I had to repair the one on my Eli­te­Book — twice. After the second repair, the lock now works very fine. This is so basic yet HP mes­sed it up on my machine.
    Like­wi­se, all hin­ges on all lap­tops should be as stiff as the ones found on all recent busi­ness lap­tops. No com­p­lains here.
  • CPU & GFX: any Dual CPU is fine with me. I’d like to have an opti­on whe­re I can eit­her choo­se bet­ween the inter­nal or a dedi­ca­ted gfx chip (both on the same machi­ne, like some Think­Pads T400 had with hybrid gfx chips) OR a modern solu­ti­on that alrea­dy does that for me auto­ma­ti­cal­ly so that I can play the occa­sio­nal game on my lap­top but will not com­p­lain about this bat­te­ry drai­ner for the rest of the year.
    RAM and HDD can be swap­ped, so I won’t men­ti­on them any further.
  • Con­nec­ti­vi­ty: This is a big one. Of cour­se, USB 3.0 ports. Three or four would be nice (my cur­rent lap­top has three USB 2.0 ports). Fire­wire? Never nee­ded it. Express/54 cards? Why? Who needs them? How many busi­ness users actual­ly need it? Fin­ger­print rea­der. Yes. Secu­re­Chip thin­gy for busi­ness users? Yes. Audio-OUT, Audio-IN _AND_ LINE-IN? Yes, so you can use the­se audio ports on a pro­fes­sio­nal basis and don’t have to add ano­t­her exter­nal audio card (e.g. I use Line-In for Soft­ware Defi­ned Radio audio sam­pling). Oh, and the sound from the inter­nal spea­kers should also be loud enough for most users. Some pro­fes­sio­nal lap­tops that cost more than 1500€ are still sold with hor­ri­ble spea­kers. Micro­pho­nes? Of cour­se, ste­reo. Web­cam? Yes, but with a simp­le hard­ware cover.
    CD/DVD/BlueRay.…hmm… yes, but always make it swapa­ble so that tho­se who don’t need it can insert a 2nd HDD ins­tead. Card-Rea­der: yes, of cour­se, and not only SD/MMC. RJ-11? :-) RJ-45? of cour­se! Dis­play ports: if pos­si­ble — all of them. If not, VGA & HDMI? Blue­tooth? Min. 2.1, if not hig­her. Wifi? Yes, a/b/g/n. Infra­Red? No, outdated.
    WWAN, yes, all anten­nas and a modem that will work with all ope­ra­ting sys­tems (i.e. not this Qual­comm Gobi thing). GPS? Is inclu­ded with modern Gobi modems. GPS should be acces­si­ble. All com­pon­ents should be lock­able and unlock­able on BIOS level from all ope­ra­ting sys­tems (= you won’t have to boot into Win­dows just to unlock your dis­ab­led WiFi to be used in GNU/Linux).
  • Docking sta­ti­on: all lap­tops should have a con­nec­tor for a docking sta­ti­on (not just USB dockings, but real ones). This is so basic but still my main rea­son why I am not using an Apple Mac­Book. No docking sta­ti­on, no fun. And plea­se, this “docking” is a bad joke.
  • Bat­te­ry: Mini­mum bat­te­ry run­ti­me on the default bat­te­ry with sur­fing and wifi on should be 6h. Peri­od.
    Bat­te­ries should also be removable/serviceable by the user, also becau­se they don’t last as long as the machine.
    I don’t know if bat­te­ry tech­no­lo­gy will chan­ge that much during the next 3–4 years, and my hope is that we find a tech­no­lo­gy which would enab­le the pro­duc­tion of ener­gy the moment we need it — which would then elli­mi­na­te the need for high capa­ci­ty bat­te­ries. But as long as we haven’t achie­ved this, I’d like to see less heat on com­pu­ters. The gene­ra­ted heat is whe­re all that was­ted ener­gy goes to. Imo, opti­mi­ze the ener­gy con­sump­ti­on and you’ll also fix the heat pro­blem. Regu­la­te much more com­pon­ents, make them use only as much ener­gy as they need. Use more sen­sors to dou­ble check that. Real­ly, the­re are ways of achie­ving this and it’s not that hard. But it’s a buy­ing decisi­on. And it’s not about buy­ing spa­re bat­te­ries. If you think the average cus­to­mer spends around 150€ on spa­re bat­te­ries, just impro­ve your ener­gy manage­ment and add this as a sur­plus char­ge on your pro­duct. Any cus­to­mer will pay more (see Apple!!) if run­ti­me is impro­ved. I will depend my next buy­ing decisi­on on a) dis­play qua­li­ty and b) bat­te­ry runtime.
  • Heat: as men­tio­ned abo­ve, heat is a pro­blem with most lap­tops. I like the fan inta­ke on Think­Pads (my main rea­son for Think­Pads) which is loca­ted at the side of the chas­sis. On Dell and HP, it’s both at the bot­tom. This is stu­pid. And on Mac­Books? You don’t get to hear the vents most of the time but ask any MBP owner on heat pro­blems. Yes.
    I would also like to have a com­pu­ter I can take to work in a dry, hot and sun­ny Afri­can coun­try without having to worry about any com­pon­ents. Coo­ling, as a start, should be excel­lent. Again, the­re’s so much poten­ti­al on the heat dis­si­pa­ti­on thing.
  • Power Sup­ply: Power sup­plies should­n’t weigh more than 300gr, should be as small as pos­si­ble, should NOT come with the­se real­ly thick 230V cables even if the law still says so (ha! — but the cable weighs more than the trans­for­mer…), they all should have magne­tic plugs as found on Mac­Books (Apple, PLEASE licence this to others) and they should all have an LED indi­ca­tor light (yes, some still don’t have this!). An LED on both the trans­for­mer and the plug.
  • Ope­ra­ting Sys­tems: I like Win­dows. I like Win­dows becau­se it works fine on my lap­top. I like OSX becau­se it works fine on Mac­Books. I like GNU/Linux on desk­top PC becau­se it does­n’t give a damn about bat­te­ry run­ti­me. Honest­ly, I don’t care about the used OS as long as it is adjus­ted to the hard­ware I am using.
    It’s the details. Hard­ware that will only work on Win­dows, not in GNU/Linux even though the machi­ne is cer­ti­fied to be com­pa­ti­ble with SUSE Linux. Yeah, right. Soft­ware that will *know* how to address my hard­ware and will make pro­per use of it. This actual­ly is one of tho­se 1:0 situa­tions for Apple. I pre­fer their approach (but they don’t have serious docking sta­ti­ons, etc. etc.).Instant-On-OS: a second, simp­le OS that may be swit­ched on when the com­pu­ter is off­line. Many tasks are web based the­se days, some just requi­re a quick check on com­pu­ter data. It would be nice to have this on my “good lap­top” (my Eli­te­Book has this whe­re it’s cal­led “Quick­Look” and “Quick­Web”.… but HP, well.…, HP is a big bureau­cra­tic com­pa­ny with no clear visi­on on things, it seems. It still does not work as beau­ti­ful as it should pro­bab­ly do).Also, as this often depends on the OS the lap­top came ship­ped with: a clear poli­cy on user data. Crea­te a second par­ti­ti­on, find a way to easi­ly back­up your home direc­to­ry. Give users more fle­xi­bi­li­ty in secu­ring their data. After all, the hard­ware may die but your data should sur­vi­ve. It’s almost like asking manu­fac­tu­rers to have an extra HDD just for the sta­tic user data, and an SSD for the OS and pro­grams only.

I think that a lot of the men­tio­ned details abo­ve will still not be pos­si­ble becau­se of:

  1. mar­ke­ting rea­sons (becau­se they want to sell more, becau­se their pro­duct mana­gers are sales­per­sons and not end users)
  2. tech­ni­cal limi­ta­ti­ons (the heat pro­blem, smal­ler power supplies)
  3. licen­sing issu­es (patents on tech­no­lo­gies such as the magne­tic plug, and may­be also the fan inta­ke on the side?)
  4. com­pa­nies, who are the main cus­to­mers of busi­ness lap­tops, don’t have such requi­re­ments and pre­fer machi­nes that pro­vi­de a con­troll­ab­le IT envi­ron­ment ins­tead of any desi­red flexibility
  5. the­re’s still no such good + open + secu­re ope­ra­ting sys­tem that will play very well with the atta­ched hardware.
  6. The design is done with a short pro­duct cycle, plan­ned obso­le­scence, no dedi­ca­ted C2C poli­cy and in regi­ons whe­re quick wins are more important than over­all achie­ve­ments and hap­py cus­to­mers (tha­t’s why I sug­gested the lea­sing model, btw, becau­se it would help a com­pa­ny to extend the pro­duct cycle and so much more).
    You can see this with the Qual­comm Gobi WWAN (UMTS/EVDO) modem which is a very nice pie­ce of hard­ware, but was desi­gned only once and all manu­fac­tu­rers then adop­ted this design to their needs. Pro­bab­ly licen­sing issu­es and the lack of human resour­ces that limit the avai­li­bi­li­ty of pro­per GNU/Linux dri­vers for this modem. Not good.
  7. Who designs the­se lap­tops? Engi­neers in the US, in Euro­pe or Chi­na? Does each com­pa­ny have their own engi­neers? I don’t think so. Are the­se engi­neers paid to defi­ne what users/customers need and want? Who sets the­se tar­gets? And what kind of rela­ti­ons­hip do the­se com­pa­nies want to have with their cus­to­mers? Are they inte­res­ted in a rela­ti­ons­hip that goes bey­ond sel­ling hard­ware and spa­re parts?

If the­re’s any serious manu­fac­tu­rer out the­re who would like to build THE per­fect lap­top: I am available. :-)

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