Competition among enterprise notebook PC vendors is fierce, so finding success often means carving out a niche. Sharp Systems of America is striving to do just that with a lightweight notebook that works in tandem with a company's existing desktop computers.
Today the subsidiary of Japanese electronics giant Sharp Corp. is launching the Actius MM20 notebook, a 2.1-pound device designed for mobile workers who use desktop PCs but need a computer to take on the road as well.
The 1 GHz MM20 is the first U.S. computer to offer Transmeta Corp.'s Efficeon processor. Though its raw computing power may be overshadowed by that of its competitors, its versatility is unique. The notebook comes with a connection cradle that uses USB 2.0 to link with other computers, such as a desktop PC. When the notebook is docked, the MM20's hard drive can be accessed from the PC as if it were an external hard drive.
Sharp Actius MM20 and connection cradle
Terry Hanly, product marketing manager for Sharp, said that the notebook comes with file-syncing technology that the vendor developed with Zip drive maker Iomega Corp. If a worker copies files from his desktop PC to the notebook, edits the files that night from home and docks the notebook again the next morning, the files on the desktop PC are automatically updated.
Hanly said that, with the combination of the file-syncing feature and the MM20's integrated 802.11g wireless connectivity, it notebook is ideal for a meeting-room setting where co-workers collaborate on files.
"Typically, it's intended for the highly mobile user, such as field salespeople, who still have a primary desktop PC that they're using somewhere," Hanly said.
Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif., said Sharp's usage concept for the MM20 is similar to what a number of other notebook and handheld vendors have been unsuccessfully attempting to do for some time.
"It allows the notebook to act as a super PDA," Enderle said. "If you look at today's mobile usage patterns, the notebook is generally used for e-mail, not heavy content creation or number crunching." Though many PDAs now have miniature built-in keyboards, he said their screens are usually too small to be useful for e-mail.
Sharp began focusing on this area last year, when buyers began moving away from midrange notebooks, Hanly said. "Companies were going more toward mission-specific computers, either a big desktop-replacement notebook, or a desktop on their desk and a small notebook they traveled with," she said.
Enderle said Sharp is making the right move by avoiding a head-to-head confrontation with enterprise notebook powerhouses like IBM, Dell Inc. and Toshiba America Inc. "Dell is a late adopter, and IBM has a great deal of difficulty moving away from traditional solutions, so the end result is, if you can move quickly, you can make much greater inroads," Enderle said.
Other features of the MM20 include the inclusion of Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition and an ATI Mobility Radeon graphics engine, plus a redesigned keyboard that's nine-tenths the size of a standard keyboard. The notebook allows for three hours of computing time with a standard battery and nine hours with an extended-life battery.
The MM20 is priced at $1,499, and that price includes the connection cradle. It will be available later this month from Sharp and its resellers.
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