What Laptop Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know

broken laptopFor years we’ve been hearing that sales of laptops have been outpacing desktops, and that our workforce is becoming increasingly mobile. For laptop manufacturers, this is obviously good news – the demand for our products is growing and will continue to grow.  Unfortunately, for the end user, laptop reliability is not growing at the same rate as demand.

A recent PC Magazine article highlighted the embarrassingly high number of business laptops that require repair each year.   According to the publication’s 2009 report, industry-wide, an average of 22 percent of business laptops require repair on an annual basis.  Oddly enough, brands that have recently touted their heightened durability seem to be at the top of the list – with Dell showing a 26 percent failure rate, Lenovo a 25 percent failure rate and HP at 22 percent.  These numbers show little improvement from previous years (this is the 5th straight year where the average fell between 22 and 24%) and are consistent with data found in reports from major analyst firms.

Even more unnerving, the Dell, Lenovo and HP laptops are likely failing in device-friendly environments. They are being challenged only by the rigors of going from the office to the conference room, or from the airport to the hotel.

What I can’t understand is why so many people have come to view these high failure rates as acceptable.  There is a lot of technology we rely on every day – our cars, cell phones, televisions.  Would you buy a cell phone if you knew that 26% of those sold would need repair every year?  Probably not.  Yet, many major corporations invest in these high-failure laptops because the focus is on the upfront acquisition cost versus long-term value of the investments.  This focus comes with significant consequences to the bottom-line.

A recent VDC report showed that a whopping 70% of mobile device costs come after the acquisition.  CFOs with mobile workforces and an eye on profitability need to start taking a much closer look at the TCO for mobile technology, and not just the acquisition price.

Fortunately, there is hope on this front.  A recent “Cash-for-Clunkers” story on Economist.com had this to say on the topic of TCO in America:

“Car dealers are now advertising the ‘total cost of ownership’ of vehicles, not just the purchase price, drawing the attention of consumers to differences in fuel efficiency between vehicles and estimating how much it would cost to fill them up with gas each year. This has long been a part of European and Japanese car culture…but until now Americans have never looked beyond the sticker price.”

People need to apply this TCO mentality to mobile technology, especially considering the critical role it plays in profitability, employee satisfaction and productivity.

At Panasonic, we have our failure rates audited by an independent third party, publish the information on our website and make it available to both existing and potential customers.  Across our entire Toughbook product line – a line that is designed to work in much harsher conditions than those our competitors are failing in – we show an average failure rate of under 2.5%.  This low failure helps to increase the return on investment and deliver a low TCO.

Why don’t you know about the lack of laptop reliability?  Well, laptop manufacturers don’t want you to know.  Obviously, they know. This is information they need in order to run their businesses.  As someone that has been in the industry for decades, I can say that this information is so closely guarded that often even the sales force is not allowed to know it.  Ignorance is bliss; until it costs you far more than you bargained for!

We challenge individuals and corporations to think about TCO and to demand third-party verified failure rate numbers when making mobile computer purchases.

As for our competitors and their “ruggedized” and “more reliable” mobile computers, we would like to suggest a new category of rugged – “Marketing Rugged”.  PT Barnum would be proud.