Dell unveils “always on” laptop that you don’t need to boot up

Dell Inc. has announced it will be soon launching a new breed of “instant access, always on” Latitude laptops.

What’s absolutely unique about these notebooks is that they allow you to access certain applications without you having to boot up Windows.

From the time you lift the notebook cover, you’ll be able to work on your e-mail, surf the Web, open your attachments, or access your calendar and contacts, said Jeff Clarke, senior vice-president, Dell Product Group.

These soon-to-be released series of Latitude laptops – likely to hit the market sometime in the September-October timeframe – will be “game changers in the business notebooks world,” the Dell executive said.

VIDEO – Paul Cooper, Country Manager, Dell Canada

At an event in San Francisco – that was Web cast live to media and analysts in several countries – Clarke announced 10 new Dell laptops targeted at mobile professionals.

These devices, Clarke and other executives promised, offer “freedom from business as usual.”

One of these is the 2.2 lbs Dell Latitude E6400, which Clarke said is “the thinnest, lightest, longest-lasting mainstream notebook in the marketplace today.”

Longest-lasting because – according to Dell – these notebooks offer a battery life longer than anything you’ve ever experienced…up to 19 hours!

Dell says it’s got that number using the industry-standard MobileMark 2007 battery test.

“Nineteen hours means literally all day, and nearly all night,” Clarke emphasized. “That’s 27 per cent more than HP, 46 per cent more than Lenovo, and 72 per cent more than Acer.”

While 19 hours of battery life may sound pretty spectacular there are some big qualifications that weren’t highlighted during the presentations.

For instance, it’s not the standard notebooks that will offer you that much juice.

Clarke said Dell’s proprietary technology extends battery life in notebooks, so the standard E6400gives you “over 10 hours of battery life on a single charge.”

The “up to 19 hours” scenario is only possible when you snap on Dell’s “battery slice” – a thin battery that fits on to the bottom of the laptop.

In addition, Clarke said, Dell has made available a “set of switches and capabilities”, which when enabled would give you up to another 20 per cent of battery life – apparently on top of the 10 hours or 19 hours.

Courting digital nomads

All in all, Dell announced seven new Latitude categories yesterday –targeted at “digital nomads.” They are:

  • Two mainstream series laptops – E6500 and 6400
  • Two “essential category” products – E5500 and 5400
  • Two “ultra-mobile” products – E4300 and 4200
  • E6400 ATG – a semi-rugged notebook for specialized environments

The whopping battery life and other key features of these new Latitudes have been designed in response to specific customer feedback, Clarke and other Dell executives said.

They said Dell canvassed the views of thousands of customers, who were “involved in focus groups, on site, and in Dell’s usability labs.”

Many ideas also came from Dell IdeaStorm, a Web site launched by Dell in February 2007 that helps the company gauge which ideas are most important and most relevant to the public. After registering, users can add articles, promote or demote them, and comment on them.

“Specifically for this product set, we’ve had direct conversations with more than 4,000 customers about developing the features they’re looking for,” said Paul Cooper, country manager, Dell Canada at the event for Canadian media and analysts in Toronto on Tuesday.

He said Dell secured more than 100 ideas from the IdeasStorm portal alone. All these have been implemented in new Latitude notebooks unveiled this week.

Cooper said one consistent message from customers is they want Dell and other vendors to help them simplify their information technology (IT) experience.

“So at Dell, that’s becoming a bit of a mantra for us. Everything we do, everything we look at is through the filter of how it helps us simplify IT for our customers.”

This strategy of obtaining customer feedback through multiple touch points is something PC manufacturers must do more and more in today’s climate, noted Michelle Warren, an independent IT analyst who covers the PC and peripherals market.

Warren noted that corporate customers have become fairly tech savvy.
“While they may not specify features – such as ‘backlit keyboards’ – they know, for instance, that they want to be able to use the notebook in darkly lit rooms or in airports.”

The need for longer battery life (or a notebook that runs all day) was another customer need expressed through IdeaStorm and other forums, Clarke said.

He said customers clamoured for three other capabilities: better protection of sensitive information; great design; and the ability to easily deploy and manage these devices.

Light and bright

On the “design” front, the “backlit keyboard” feature on all these Latitude models was introduced in response to customer feedback on IdeaStorm.

The idea is to allow users to see the keys clearly, and so make it easier for them to work in varying lighting conditions, Clarke said.

He said the lighting method – all keys are all lighted from below the key cap – makes for even lighting.

This technique, he said, contrasts, with the practice of other vendors, “which is to use the light of the LCD to [brighten] the keyboard – a method that “leads to hot spots and inconsistent lighting.”

The new Dell Latitudes, Clarke said, have an ambient light sensor that adjusts automatically. “As a user, you could also modify the brightness yourself.”

Based on customer input, obtained through scores of usability studies, Dell has also “improved the comfort and accuracy” of its notebook keyboards.

To this end, Clarke said the company has incorporated more than 40 new attributes into its keyboard design – ranging from shape to placement of keys.

And enhanced design extends beyond the device to peripherals, the Dell executive said. For instance, Dell has reduced the size of the AC adapter by half. “So it’s easy and light to carry when you go on extended trips.”

Likewise, Clarke said, customers can take advantage of Dell’s PowerShare technology to charge their mobile pones via the notebook’s USB port “whether the notebook has AC power or not, or whether it’s on or off.”

According to Warren, these are features customers are likely to find very compelling.

In particular, she said, customers would appreciate the extended battery life, the emphasis on “thin and light” – exemplified by the less than one kilo laptop – and the backlit keyboard. “I think those features will make users’ lives easier.”

She said business users today have a far greater say in determining the features of their devices. “That’s how things are shifting today – users specify what they want in technology, and IT often has to respond.”

So eliciting feedback directly from users – as Dell has done – just makes a lot of sense, the analyst said.

Image building

Faster and easier deployment is another oft-expressed business customer requirement that Dell has responded to, said Clarke.

For instance, he said, some weeks ago the company launched a new set of ProSupport mobile services that increased and enhanced deployment capabilities.

These services, he said, make migration from old to new systems easy and cost effective. Dell’s image and data migration tools, he said, allow business customers to very quickly and easily make the move from older to new devices, “cutting migration costs by nearly 62 per cent.”

In addition, many capabilities around online backup, remote management and deployment, he said, have been built and enhanced thanks to Dell’s acquisitions.

Device management can be simplified and speeded up using Dell’s ControlVault technology, he said. “Through this embedded process we store, manage and process your end-user credentials, including your key and password. It’s all done behind a protected boundary…in an offline subsystem.”

He said Dell ControlPoint software also available in these systems makes it easy to navigate into the systems and manage power, configuration, end user profiles and preferences and security.

Track n’ trace

The ability to better protect their laptops – and the information on it – was another persistent customer demand, said Clarke.

For mobile professionals this is a crucial need, he said, noting that each week 17,000 notebooks are lost, left unattended or reported missing in airports around the world.

Should this happen to one of the new Latitude notebooks, Dell’s ProSupport Mobility Services would be able to track that misplaced or stolen notebook and, if needed, remotely delete all of the information on it.

Security on these notebooks has also been enhanced through better authentication capabilities, he said. “These include a contact-less smart card reader and the FIPS (federal information processing standards) fingerpoint read to ensure you are who you say you are.”

New features have been introduced to improve reliability, he said, such as inclusion of a sold state disk in each of these notebooks, which is three times more reliable than conventional disks.

“We’ve also enhanced our pre-fall sensor – the ability of the notebook to sense it’s in a pre-fall situation and park the heads on the disk drive.”

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