5 Reasons Why Android May Take Half the Netbook Market

android11If there was major letdown from the most recent Mobile World Congress Event in Barcelona, it was the utter lack of presence of Google Android on devices not made by HTC. Sure, Samsung and LG both promised that they would be bringing Android phones to market this year, but the big Android news of the show was the HTC Magic, which is basically the T-Mobile G1 without a physical keyboard (although the so-called Cupcake software updates are certainly welcome). Motorola’s Android phone was also a no-show. I have no doubt that these devices will eventually materialize, but I think Android has much more potential as a netbook platform than as a smart phone one. So much potential that I think Microsoft should be nervous. According to Gartner, 15 percent of netbooks sold today are running Linux. I predict that Android could easily increase that Windows/Linux mix to 70/30 by the end of 2010 and to 50/50 by 2012. Just in recent days ASUS said it was working on an Android-based netbook, and Freescale and Nvidia have announced support for Android on mini-notebooks. Here’s why I think Android will shake up the netbook world. 1. Linux needs a household name, and Google is it. Just this week Dell revealed to us during a call about its upcoming Inspiron Mini 10 that a whopping third of its netbooks sold had the Penguin under the hood. This actually makes a lot of sense; the Ubuntu version of the Inspiron Mini is only available online and not in retail, so buyers of that device are seeking it out specifically. In brick and mortar stores right now, it’s pretty much Windows or nothing. Now imagine how much more likely retailers would be to stock Linux-powered netbooks if Google’s name was attached. 2. Unlike most Linux netbooks, there will be an easy-to-use integrated app store. Granted, the Android Market is a bit of a mess right now, and I realize that many apps would need to be re-written for larger displays. But I think having Android Market on a netbook would address one of the major criticisms mainstream consumers have had about the Linux desktop experience: the difficulty of researching and acquiring new apps. I envision a separate Android Market springing up with many of the same categories intact. 3. Android Netbooks Will Be Cheaper (And Less Crippled) Than Windows 7 Netbooks In recent weeks, we learned that HP was considering using the Starter edition of Windows 7 in upcoming netbooks, presumably to keep costs down. There’s just one problem: Starter edition machines can run only three programs simultaneously. It’s not that more robust versions of Windows 7 won’t run on netbooks, as we’ve seen, it’s that the price may be too steep for OEMs to stomach in a market that’s all about keeping the cost low as possible. Android is free to license, which could equal significant cost savings for consumers. A full-featured $199 Android netbook is certainly within the realm of possibility. 4. Touch support will likely be built-in. I personally don’t think touchscreens make a lot of sense on larger notebooks. A 10-inch netbook display is a different story, and Android has a built-in advantage versus other Linux flavors in that touch support is already offered. This will make it easy to interact with desktop widgets and touch-optimized Android Market apps–and hopefully for vendors to devise their own touchscreen overlays to differentiate their wares. 5.  Android will help carriers sell more mobile broadband subscriptions. Think about it. Google Docs. Gmail. Google Calendar. Google Latitude. Although Google is doing a good job these days of enabling users of its services to do more offline, Google (and Android by extension) is synonymous with cloud computing. And to work in the cloud you really need a persistent Internet connection. Carriers are already starting to dabble in subsidized netbooks (like the $99 Acer Aspire One through RadioShack), but they could easily lower that cost down to $50 or perhaps even free with a two-year contract. And with more Android phones coming to carrier shelves in the near future, it will be an easier sell for subscribers when they see Android netbooks in the same store.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. midnightsailor Says:

    Great article! =)

  2. eduardo Says:

    Android is being ported to the Freescale ARM cpu netbooks that are coming out later this year. These netbooks will be considerably cheaper than ones based on the Intel Atom, and use only one-third as much power.

  3. sirebral Says:

    50%? That is a huge margin! I would vote that Android will have a healthy share of the market, but 50% is just way to big. Besides, I think the question is misleading. Could Android be an *option* to come preinstalled on 50% of new notebooks by 2012. Then I would taken more time to say Yes, probably.

  4. Nick Eman Says:

    I don’t think a touchscreen even makes sense on a 10 inch netbook….Why would anyone want to navigate a netbook by having to repeatedly hold their hand/arm in the air when they can just rest their arm/hand on a table, etc.

    Now on a phone absolutely, phones are made to be controlled by touchscreen.

  5. will-kill-for-exclusivity Says:

    i was overjoyed when i heard of the toshiba and acer netbooks powered by android, but it was a huge disappointment when i read in reviews that the android market is not supported.

    May be the app developers can find a solution the “window way”. If the application does not require much interaction or “clicking” then they can show it on the screen in a small window, instead of optimizing it for the big screen.

    I am no developer, but it is a just a concept so I don’t know the technical part but this seems to be the best compromise without killing the screen resolution as well as the hassle to optimize the app interface to fit the screen(I hope it is not)

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