Are netbooks dead?

By Nestor E. Arellano

Are netbooks dead? Does any one even care?

Cramped design, underpowered and lacking the tablet’s appeal it’s easy to understand why many pundits would be quick to write off what only two years ago was a blockbuster seller that shook the PC world.

Nestor Arellano
Deloitte LLP’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions speculate that businesses will buy more than 10 million tablet devices throughout 2011. The same report also anticipates production of some 50 million tablets and 375 million smartphones compared to just 390 million computers, laptops and netbooks.

At the same time Acer, a major player in the netbook market, is expected to reduce shipment of netbooks and focus instead on tablet production. In May this year, the Taiwanese company shipped between 400,000 and 500,000 netbooks – down by about 50 per cent from last month.

Related story – Netbooks could suffer deathblow from iPad, tablets


Despite the numbers, I don’t believe that we’ve seen the last of netbooks. Each time I see my teenage daughter Hilary happily watching Degrassi reruns, keeping up with Facebook friends or typing out her resume on her Atom-powered HP Mini, I just can’t shake the feeling that despite the iPad’s cache on cool the clunky netbook has struck a niche market.

For sure netbooks are no longer the stars they were back in 2008 and 2009, but they still fulfill a designated purpose – surfing the Net, typing documents, watching videos and emailing. This is pretty much what the original netbooks with 1GB of RAM were made for and they did it well. Much of the complaints about netbooks actually come out when the mini machines are expected to do more than what they were made for.

Sure there are many small laptops and ultra-light notebooks that come packed with more computing power to run office suites, do presentations and play online games. But these features are often not those sought after by most netbook users. Tablets may boot up faster, show crisper video images but it also comes with a hefty price tag that doesn’t include a keyboard.

Related story – AMD’s Fusion chip launched on slew of netbooks

Perhaps one sure sign that manufacturers are not yet giving up on the netbook is that Asus, Acer’s rival, showed off two new models of the mini notebooks at Computex. These Windows-powered netbooks are priced at around $299 and will have an “instant on feature”. Asus will also release its Eee PC X101 which runs on Intel’s MeeGo mobile OS and will cost around $199. The company will also soon release two Windows 7 netbooks priced between $240 and $250.

Samsung, Lenovo and Fujitsu also have their own MeeGo-powered netbooks.

Apart from their current cool factor, tablets are being snapped up by consumers for their longer battery life and shorter boot time compared to netbooks.

I think netbooks will weather this onslaught due their much lower prices. For now, the netbook’s survival will hinge not on technology or design but on its price tag.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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