All employees of Taiyo Life Insurance's sales force will use the laptops, which will be distributed starting Monday. The systems will be used by salespeople on the road, selling insurance, calculating rates and generating maps for driving to customer sites, said Jim Chapman, Transmeta's senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Transmeta makes chips that work in a way similar to those from Intel. The company argues that its Crusoe chips, when combined with technology that balances CPU power consumption with actual computing demand, give small laptops a battery life of eight hours. But Transmeta has had trouble getting established in the United States.
The deal with Taiyo and Fujitsu, announced today in Japan, is a shot in the arm for Transmeta, which hopes corporate adoption will help it expand from its current Japanese customer base to the United States. Intel still largely has a lock on the corporate market, where buyers are more cautious about adopting new technology.
"In Japan, we're popular with consumers. In the U.S., I think it's going to be corporate," Chapman said in a telephone interview from Japan. The rationale: busy executives on airplanes need every ounce of battery life they can get, and employees on the road or connected to wireless networks can't afford to be tethered by a power cord.
Transmeta, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has begun three corporate "seeding" programs in the United States, getting companies to try out Transmeta-based systems, Chapman said.
But cracking the U.S. market will be tough without the backing of the top computer sellers, such as IBM and Dell, that are most popular with big business customers, said IDC analyst Roger Kay.
"I do think they need to get into the top tier," Kay said. "In large enterprises, Intel is still pretty much the orthodoxy."
Individual buyers such as home customers or company honchos looking for "executive jewelry" might in some ways be an easier sell for Transmeta, Kay added. "It's easier to convince an individual consumer to buy a box than to convince a whole organization to buy one," he said.
But Chapman believes U.S. consumers are interested less in superlightweight notebooks where Transmeta's chips are found than in comparatively bulky but full-featured "desktop replacements."
In Japan, Transmeta has a good corporate presence through its partnerships with Fujitsu and NEC, the equivalents there of IBM and Dell, Chapman said. And Transmeta Chief Technology Officer Dave Ditzel has said models with built-in video cameras are popular with insurance companies.
The Fujitsu systems sold to Taiyo weigh about 2.2 pounds and are smaller than typical laptops sold in the U.S. They use Transmeta's Crusoe 5400 CPUs running at 533MHz.
Intel has responded to Transmeta's threat by "firing off a pretty good broadside of low-voltage (chips). They're not going to make life easy for Transmeta," Kay said. But as demonstrated by AMD's strength with its Athlon chip, now is a good time to take on Intel.
"There's an openness to alternative suppliers that wasn't there in the past," Kay said.