Gartner: $100 laptops still three years off

Gartner warns vendors not to lose sight of key technical issues for the sake of price.

Just as the news hit about the unveiling of a US$130 laptop, Gartner Monday released a report stating that a $100 laptop still is three years away.

The Gartner report noted that laptop prices generally are well above that price point and hitting the US$100 mark is not realistic for the next three years. The firm warned that if vendors focus too much on breaking the $100 barrier, they might lose sight of key technical issues.

"The economic benefits of IT literacy in emerging markets are currently driving the push for the $100 PC but there are many open questions that remain," said Gartner analyst Annette Jump in a statement. "These include determining the relevant hardware specifications, power availability, availability and cost of Internet connection, as well as providing adequate finance and payment options for emerging markets where funds may well be extremely limited."

Just as Gartner was releasing its analysis, Taipei, Taiwan-based Carapelli unveiled a US$130 laptop, which it dubbed the "world's cheapest laptop".

The Impulse NPX-9000 laptop has a 7-inch screen and runs the Linux operating system. It has a 400-MHz processor, 128MB of RAM, 1GB of flash storage and an optional wireless networking dongle. It includes office productivity software, a Web browser and multimedia software.

The catch is that you can't buy just one. The laptops need to be purchased in units of 100.

Before that, the cheapest laptop generally was considered to be One Laptop Per Child's (OLPC) XO computer, which sold for US$188 for a limited time last year. While it was the cheapest machine yet, it had hardware shortcomings, such as a slow processor and limited graphics capabilities.

Gartner's Jump noted in her report that increased demand for inexpensive laptops, along with declining component prices, could reduce prices by 10 to 15 percent in the next two to three years. She added that packaging, assembly and software costs likely are to remain the same.

While inexpensive notebooks largely have been aimed at the education market in developing countries, Gartner reports that mini-laptops are catching on but not among business users. Jump contends that for mini-notebooks to take off, they'll have to be positioned as entries to the Internet and less as real computing machines.

"We expect to see increased product innovation in the PC market during the next few years," said 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."

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