Laptop schleppers are a demanding lot. While Silicon Valley engineers rack their brains to create a better, faster mobile computer, their customers are more concerned with how to carry it around. "People don't get opinionated about their track balls or surge protectors, but they have peculiar and strong opinions about computer cases," says Glenn Rodgers, a designer and developer of computer accessories for Kensington Microware Ltd., in San Mateo, Calif.
Gone are the days of the slim, black cordovan zipper case. Today consumers invariably want a bag that counteracts the laws of physics by being protective and lightweight but large enough to hold all their accessories. "I've never been able to win on that one," Rodgers laments.
But Rodgers's company does have a spill-proof solution for maladroit users threatened by an errant coffee cup. The Kensington Sports Notebook Wetsuit (800-535-4242, www.kensington.com, $49.95) is a form-fitting neoprene sleeve that protects computers from spills, scratches, and other mishaps. No, you can't take it diving.
David Gilson, a sales representative for a Vancouver, B.C., food wholesaler, wanted a case that was large enough for his files but that didn't require acres of desktop space to unpack. His search led him to the Legtop Podeum Pro, from Rach Inc. (360-384-4111, www.podeum.com, $99.95), which he now carries around "almost constantly."
The Podeum Pro is both carrying case and portable work surface: the base of the case is a nonslip platform that fastens around the user's leg. That setup holds the computer in place, which is key: last year insurers paid out close to $300 million for laptops that met their makers sliding off users' knees, according to Chris Stirling, vice president of Rach.
For those leery of theft, designers try to make cases look like they contain anything but laptops. Manufacturers have developed knapsacks (popular in dressed-down Silicon Valley), satchels, and wheelie cases that look like flight-attendant bags and act like mobile offices. "I even saw one person with a laptop that was stuffed in a paper shopping bag," Rodgers says.