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Ever since suitcase-size mobile computers appeared a decade ago, portables have been designed as traveling offices for white-collar workers. But now the multimedia punch of these mobile machines and their lower prices are luring an entirely new audience: home-PC buyers, students, and small business owners.

Increasingly, such buyers are opting for the space savings, and not just their portability. Ellen Miller, a marketing consultant who sometimes works out of her Dallas home, is the proud owner of two laptops: one for her and one for her teenage daughter. ''She likes the smaller footprint and the fact it can be moved around'' from room to room, says Miller.

THROUGH THE CHAINS. PC makers are responding to customers like Miller. Toshiba America Information Systems started in 1993, when it began targeting home-office workers and small businesses by selling some models through such chains as Best Buy. It now sells everything from the entry-priced Satellite to the midpriced Satellite Pro through electronics superstores.

This fall, Toshiba laptops have plenty of company on the shelf. There are $2,000-to-$3,000 multimedia portables from IBM and Texas Instruments. And laptop-market newcomers Acer America and Fujitsu PC are aiming their models--the sleek AcerNote Light Multimedia and the stylish Milan, respectively--at both businesses and consumers right off the bat.

Compaq Computer seems to be making the biggest move, though. Unlike other PC makers that simply funnel business models into consumer channels, it has created a new series of laptops for its Presario home-PC line: the Presario 1000 series. Sold exclusively through consumer-electronics stores, these three machines share the familiar high-quality audio and video features of Presario desktop PCs. They also come with traditional home-PC programs such as Quicken SE finance and the signup software for America Online.

A ROUNDED LOOK. To further distinguish these machines from their business models, Compaq has given them the rounded look of a home stereo. They have built-in stereo speakers and a power amplifier and equalizer. They also come with 120-Mhz or 133-Mhz Pentium chips as well as a built-in 33.6 kilobit-per-second modem. Prices range from $2,500 to $4,000.

Soon you, too, may be lugging your laptop all the way from the home office to the living room. Sure beats the dash through the airport.

Gary McWilliams

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Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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