Toward better business laptop buying experiences
As I evaluated CES 2022 business laptop announcements, I started jotting down notes that I thought would confuse readers. Then I consolidated those into these 4 areas where manufacturers can take a leadership role.
Focus on high-end performance
First, business laptops need to adopt a high-end chip first design philosophy. Business laptops should not offer i3 or even low-end i5 CPU or AMD equivalent technology for general use. With video conferencing, various forms of creation for social media and internal communications, and basic enhancements, such as AI embedded in apps, low-end laptops make no sense for any business use case (nor for education either).
Comput-intensive cloud solutions, such as those experiences on Chromebooks may be an exception as they push processing off the device, but chips optimized for Chrome are now arriving and business laptops should incorporate those chips.
The fallout of buying better devices may be a slightly longer lifespan for laptops. Top-of-the-line devices last longer, but that may also prove a selling point for business customers who will like the idea of reducing laptop churn. Savvy buyers already know this and stay away from bargain laptops, even from first-tier manufacturers.
Kill 16:9 devices
Second, it is time to end the 16:9 format for business laptops. 1080p HD is too narrow for business work. Sure, most business laptops will connect to a monitor or two to increase productivity, but that won’t be the case all the time. 16:10 and other more “square” formats offer more canvas for working. They also make better companions when paired with a monitor.
Reduce the number of product lines and configurations
Third, reduce the variety. Laptops have become like movies. Manufacturers pump out myriad configurations in hopes of a hit. One best-selling laptop’s margins can help make up for poor performance across less expensive lines—and just-in-time inventory also helps companies keep costs down by only producing computers people buy. But in the stive to serve all forms of niche applications manufacturers create market confusion. Yes, that is one of the reasons that people like me write reviews and offer advice on how to buy a laptop (see our new 2022 business laptop review criteria here).
Even Apple sometimes releases computers that blur across performance and connectivity with their tiny set of products. Companies like Lenovo and HP just have too many configurations, too many product lines. If they need to make a specialized PC for an audience, fine, but be clear, and make sure the product lines show clear differentiation. General business versus creators offers good contrast, as do ruggedized laptops for field applications. But multiple, general lines for business that get easily confused for consumer products (and yes, cut down on the consumer lines as well) doesn’t do favors for the market.
One of the characteristics of this overabundance of options (see the now-classic Scientific American article, The Tyranny of Choice for additional arguments for narrowing buyer choices) is the need for benchmarks. The amount of memory, the brand and model of CPU, the bus architecture, and a number of other factors contribute to the actual and perceived speed of computing associated with a laptop.
Fully embrace sustainability for better business laptop buying experiences
Fourth, rather than one or two devices that tout a sustainability theme with recycled material in the chassis or in the packaging material, laptop manufacturers should refit and go all-in on sustainable packaging across all devices. Stop with the plastic wrappers and cloth inserts between the display and keyboard. Eliminate Styrofoam (even if marked with a recycling icon it often isn’t recyclable in practice). For accessories ditch the plastic windows and the plastic retail hangers.
There are plenty of pre-and-post waste plastic and paper sources around the world. Put sustainable and recycled materials to work everywhere. This is a place where the industry can take a stand and not make it about individual products aimed at creating a sustainability perception without a deep commitment.
Toward developing an outcome-based industry benchmark standard
Finally, manufacturers need to develop easier ways for people to know if a PC will be adequate for the work they do. The industry needs benchmarks that deliver clear advice such as Rated 9 for video editing. Buyers could look at a machine and know what it was good for. Benchmarks like PugetBench inch in that direction, but don’t go far enough.
Primary use cases should be standardized, like video editing, image editing, 3D rendering, video conferencing, content management, etc. Rather than looking at benchmarks to see if a laptop is slightly faster than its sibling or a competitor, ratings would show which are the best laptops for 3D rendering using the same scale across the market. Third-party analysis could be part of the ecosystem.
Most business laptops would likely rate highly for basics like textual content creation, e-mail, and keyboard-based notetaking. But move up a level to rich content, and the need for multiple, high-resolution images in a single document comes into play. People should know if their laptops will lag when they do that kind of work.
I’m sure that there will be heavy resistance to an industry standard for PC performance, but such a standard would reduce confusion, and it might force a shakeout on the overabundance of models as various product lines overly discover the overlaps that confuse their buyers. I would suspect that an early entrant for this approach to documenting performance would have a competitive advantage over manufacturers that continue to offer opaque windows into their devices.
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Images courtesy of Lenovo.