Call Off the Funeral, Long Live Netbooks

notebook_diva1 Some industry experts are ready to sign a “do not resuscitate” order for the netbook market, sending them to the morgue for placement in their small (yet cheap, and plastic) caskets. But those netbooks hearts are still beating steadily, and are far from heading toward the light. “With most consumers willing to carry two devices total, there’s not a lot of room for ‘tweener devices,’” analyst Michael Gartenberg wrote in a recent column for Engadget, woefully entitled, Netbooks, R.I.P. A few weeks later notebook analyst Rob Enderle declared, “anything you want to do on a notebook, you will be able to do on a netbook,” in his The Death of the Netbook column for Inquiry Analysts. And then there was Wired’s Brian X. Chen, who said his iPhone 3GS was better than his “hackintoshed” MSI Wind. Am I missing something? Netbooks are selling by the millions. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, about 6 million were sold. According to DisplaySearch, 33 million netbooks will ship by the end of this year, meaning sales growth of 136 percent in the U.S., while traditional notebook sales are predicted to remain flat; proving there is still high demand for netbook-specific traits. So how the heck could netbooks be dying? One argument is that netbooks, as they were originally conceived, aren’t really netbooks anymore; they’re regular laptops. With many netbooks growing to include 12-inch screens and packing processors capable of basic computing (HD video, multitasking, etc.), Moore’s Law is certainly at work. There’s no doubt some netbooks have become more powerful, and have started to resemble low-priced ultraportables. But I contend that smaller netbooks aren’t dead, or even on life support. Here’s why. ..

  • Portability. Though we’ve seen the netbook evolve to include 12-inch designs, to me 10 inches is still the sweet spot. These machines were originally called mini-netbooks for a reason. A 10-inch netbook can fit into purses or shoulder bags with ease, and most of these devices weigh less than 3 pounds. For those who just want to get online for a few hours, there is still a place for grab-and-go devices, and many prefer the netbook form factor to that of a 12-inch or 13-inch ultraportable.
  • Ultra-Long Battery Life. Smaller screens, coupled with seriously power-efficient processors, enable netbooks to last longer than most of the new, 12-inch netbook/ultraportable hybrids. Long battery life will continue to be a selling point of netbooks, especially as many of them now offer well over 8 hours of endurance. Yes, Acer’s 13-inch Timeline 3810 (which falls into this new class of not-quite-netbook yet not-fully-powered notebook) lasts 8 hours on a charge, but it weighs at least a pound and a half more than the typical netbook and eshews an optical drive to achieve it’s one-inch thin profile.
  • Affordability Matters. The best netbooks on the market, like the Toshiba mini NB205, cost $399. And many models start at $299 or are available for as low as 99 cents (although that’s when paired with a carrier contract and a pricey monthly mobile broadband fee). Good budget notebooks and even the latest budget ultraportables powered by Intel’s CULV processors tend to start at $599, and in this economy a $200 to $300 price delta is huge.

Perhaps customers who once would have bought a netbook, because of its low price, will soon opt to by a larger 12-inch system equipped with Nvidia’s Ion graphics or Intel’s CULV processor for a premium. But many will continue to see the need for a netbook as a secondary PC, whether it’s for traveling or just getting online in a pinch at home or at the local coffee shop. Those are the people who will continue to pump blood through the veins of the netbook industry.

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  1. Anonymous Says:

    Forced controversy! What a glorious way to spur new traffic to websites. -_-… Don’t feed the trolls.

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