Windows notebooks offered for sale in North America are stuck in evolutionary stasis. The reason is simple: A small number of Asian manufacturers build major brand notebooks. Exterior design and interior components shared across vendors lower manufacturing costs and bring "new" models to market faster. Efforts to enliven the genre tend to be focused on superficial shelf appeal. Large speaker grilles, Windows Media Player transport buttons, and blue LEDs (borrowed from gamer/enthusiast desktops) typify low-value bells and whistles that can be inexpensively overlaid on a formulaic design. More than one observer has posited that such gewgaws serve the added purpose of distracting buyers from the absence of purposeful ingenuity and backsliding build quality.
Innovative leaps in notebook design do exist. When InfoWorld's staff attends conferences that draw a globally diverse crowd, we find a fascinating variety of devices perched atop tables in the press room. When vendors create notebooks, tablets, and unclassifiable species of portable devices for sale to Asian markets, they throw caution to the wind. It's as if Western notebook buyers are presumed to have an aversion to innovation.
[ See "The best notebook money can't buy" to explore the interactive Flash illustrations of InfoWorld's ideal notebooks, the WorldBook Ether and WorldBook Meteor. ]
With the goal of challenging that assertion, InfoWorld assembled a team of technology experts from its staff and charged them with the goal of designing a genuinely innovative notebook. We subjected our project to the limitations that any manufacturer faces when it starts whiteboarding a new notebook. Components must either be available now in sufficient quantity to support volume production, or have component manufacturers' contractual commitment to availability at a supportable price within the next 12 months. As you'll see, it's unlikely that our design could be taken from brain trust to working prototype in a year, but the time constraint was necessary to limit the number of feature options that could be brought to the table.
Another realistic constraint we applied to our imaginary notebook design was cost. We set a target retail price for the machine, established acceptable profit margins, and worked backward as best we could in the few weeks we allocated to the project. Some of our cost assumptions are based on radical changes in the global economy. Wage stagnation, the displacement of thousands of skilled manufacturing workers, cheap real estate, low interest rates, revenue-starved municipalities, outrageous transportation costs driven by fuel prices, and the likelihood of federal tax incentives and subsidies for technology companies that keep their operations stateside steered us toward designing, manufacturing, subcontracting, and supporting our devices in the United States. We won't put a pretty face on this -- we're counting on exploiting present painful economic conditions, betting that they will persist for the duration of our startup, and that government efforts to improve matters will dramatically lower startup and operating costs. We'll give as good as we get, going to extraordinary lengths to protect local ecology and otherwise be a model corporate citizen. Doing right by the community begets positive consequences. This wouldn’t be worth doing if we couldn't plan long-term improvements in quality of life, particularly with regard to education, where we decide to locate.