IBM architect lays out notebook roadmap

IBM has reaffirmed its commitment to the Bluetooth technology by promising Bluetooth-integrated notebooks in the near future.

SINGAPORE--IBM has reaffirmed its commitment to the Bluetooth technology by promising Bluetooth-integrated notebooks in the near future.

"Arimasa Naitoh (see left), director of Portable Systems, IBM Asia Pacific Technology Organization revealed that selected models of its ThinkPad series will have integrated Bluetooth antennas. These will be launched in the "next few quarters".

An IBM spokesperson added that these notebooks will be part of its top-of-the-line A-series.

Currently, the wireless technology is available as a PC Card for IBM ThinkPads. Big Blue also expects to release in Asia a Bluetooth device for the UltraPort, a USB port located above the ThinkPad screen, in the third quarter this year.

This Bluetooth UltraPort module is already available in the United States for US$169.

Several companies including Nokia and Palm have announced Bluetooth-enabled offerings, but the global standard hit a low with Microsoft's decision not to add support in its upcoming Windows XP.

There are also questions about Bluetooth's role, with the emergence of a rival wireless platform IEEE 802.11b.

New generation of notebooks in 2006
Naitoh, who has been the lead architect and chief designer for IBM's ThinkPad for eight years, suggested that notebook technology will see only incremental improvements in the next few years, with breakthrough technologies coming towards the second half of the decade.

Notebook processors will continue to show the usual advances, increasing to a speed of 3 GHz within the next three years.

Battery technologies are also not expected to improve significantly, and IBM's solution is to reduce the power usage of processors. Naitoh said that a current 1 GHz processor requires a maximum of 25 watts, but with only the operating system running, energy saving features on ThinkPads can bring this down to 2 watts.

He added that most users are unlikely to require TFT screens with very high resolutions, so although such technology is available, users will instead demand better display quality, including better viewing angles, higher contrast and truer color.

But in five years' time, various breakthrough technologies will come together for a new generation of portable PCs. Naitoh expects processor speeds to enable more natural human interfaces, including 3D graphics and speech recognition.

At the same time, organic electroluminescent displays (OELDs) will replace current TFT technology, giving it brighter and thinner displays that use less power. Magnetic RAM will replace dynamic RAM, allowing users to switch notebooks off and on without having to restart systems. Various network technologies will also coincide to bring about network storage, reducing the need for local storage devices.

As these breakthroughs combine with improvements in power consumption, size, weight and battery life, he expects new form factors to emerge. All these can be expected in 2006, but Naitoh is already dreaming of the time when he can type documents with his arms crossed and his fingers tapping on hidden keyboards located on his upper arms, and also the time when he can wear a business suit made of OELDs that can display different colors at the touch of a button.