Farewell the mobile power user

Here’s a sobering thought: could Dell, Apple and Sony, through their recent recall of faulty notebook batteries, have inadvertently put another nail in the coffin of the once highly lauded mobile power user – you know, those productivity junkies who don’t waste a second of time at airports while waiting for their flights? They’re the ones with notebooks flipped open and connected to the airport’s wireless network right up to the moment they have to board a flight.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  September 7, 2006

|~||~||~|Here’s a sobering thought: could Dell, Apple and Sony, through their recent recall of faulty notebook batteries, have inadvertently put another nail in the coffin of the once highly lauded mobile power user – you know, those productivity junkies who don’t waste a second of time at airports while waiting for their flights? They’re the ones with notebooks flipped open and connected to the airport’s wireless network right up to the moment they have to board a flight.

No airline wants to run the risk of a notebook bursting into flames – however low the possibility – so quite understandably, they’re talking about banishing notebooks to the cargo hold with the rest of the lowly luggage.

And here’s another sobering thought. Additional, but temporary security measures following the London liquids bomb alert saw laptops being banned from the cabin. If such measures turn out to be permanent, what’s going to happen to the massive networks airports and service providers have built to keep passengers connected while they wait for their flights?

These are questions which IT vendors, business users and airport authorities need to be addressing right now as pressure is certainly building up to ban notebooks to the cargo hold when in-flight.

You can’t fault the authorities for wanting to stop notebooks being carry-on items in terms of the threat they pose as an electronic device. I for one have never understood how switching on my notebook after being checked by security x-ray proves it isn’t also programmed to detonate some explosive given how easy it is to conceal explosive components. And you certainly can’t argue with them for being loath to have notebooks on board if there’s a likelihood of their batteries bursting into flames. A crowded economy cabin is not the best place to be fighting fires.

So, should the notebook be consigned to fly cargo class then there are several key issues that need to be addressed.

From a notebook vendors’ perspective, what would such a ban do to their sales? Business mobility is a strong sales motivator and a huge profit earner compared to PC desktops. What is going to happen to this key market if those who can really benefit from the technology, while waiting for flights and while in transit, can’t actually use it when they most need it?

Then there are the airport authorities and service providers who have invested in the wireless network infrastructures. With notebooks and PDAs checked in with the luggage, passengers are going to have to spend their time in duty frees – providing of course, they can still take the liquids they buy on board. The wireless network itself will be consigned to a role of a walkie-talkie port, with airport staff being able to use wireless IP phones instead of the pre-historic communication devices they currently use at most airports.

That leaves the personal and business perspective. What company or individual wants to put its US$1,500-plus notebook into the butter-fingered hands of an airport baggage handler? Split screen technology is going to take on a whole new meaning.

Then there’s the security problem – security, that is, in terms of things tending to get ‘lost’ between check-in and baggage reclaim and typically involving the same baggage handler.

And don’t forget there’s the real security issue of the data in the machine. These power users are termed as such because of all the data they carry around with them. The ramifications of ‘lost’ data could be catastrophic.

Having to read a book or watch in-flight movies is a small price to pay for enhanced security, but somehow I doubt if the vendor, service provider or business user communities are going to be prepared to make the sacrifice.

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