Why has laptop technology stagnated?

I used to use a laptop every day. In my mind, the most important aspects of a laptop are: screen size and resolution; keyboard quality; thickness and weight; and battery life.

If you asked someone today to choose a top-of-the-line laptop, he’d likely pick a MacBook Pro, the 15” model of which has the following key features:

Surely an impressive machine. However, in 2003 I got an IBM Thinkpad T40, which has the following corresponding specs:

  • 14.1” screen with 1400×1050 resolution
  • Amazing keyboard
  • 1.0” thick
  • 4.9 lbs
  • 4:40 real-world battery life

It’s remarkably similar, and actually better on several counts. Sure,

  • The processor is slower, but it was state-of-the-art at the time, and was probably more power hungry.
  • The screen is smaller, but it’s higher resolution. Also, the 13.3” MacBook Pro weighs 4.5 lbs, so 14.1”/4.9 is still very competitive.
  • “Macs have better build quality, blah blah”. Does not appear to be the case, at least for this example. The T40 in question was used every day as my primary computer for years. It’s been dropped, while open and running, at least 5 times, with no ill effects. In fact, it is still running, seven years on, as a streaming Netflix server for our TV. It won’t die.

What gives? I know battery technology hasn’t improved much. But what about everything else? Shouldn’t new laptops be half the weight, or have fold-up “retina display” screens, or something?

Okay, here’s the most advanced laptop I could find with an optical drive… the Lenovo ThinkPad T410s.

  • 14” screen with 1440×900 resolution
  • Apparently great keyboard
  • 0.83” thick
  • 3.9 lbs
  • 4:10 real-world battery life

I guess that’s decent. But still. 7 years ago, I listened to music on a portable abacus, and now I have it piped directly into the aural processing unit of my brain. Why can’t laptops catch up?

Edit: In responding to a comment, I came across a better laptop with an optical drive, the ThinkPad X301:

  • 13.3” screen with 1440×900 resolution
  • Apparently great keyboard
  • 0.7” thick
  • 2.9-3.3 lbs
  • 3:40 real-world battery life

That’s not bad. Too bad it starts at like $2,500.

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