Netbooks: notebook evolved - or stunted throwback?
Demand for tablets suggests the latter
Heads or Fails Market watcher ChangeWave this week revealed that netbook popularity has plunged - but not necessarily in the wake of the iPad's introduction.
ChangeWave regularly polls punters to see what gadgets they plan to purchase in the coming months. When it comes to netbooks, CW said, only 14 per cent of those North American consumers who said in October 2010 that they will buy a mobile computer in the next three months will choose a netbook.
That's down from a peak of 24 per cent in June 2009.
Consumer Netbook Demand
"Do you think the laptop you plan on buying in the next 90 days will be a netbook?"
Interestly, netbook demand as monitored by CW has been sliding since that time. October's score of 14 per cent was one percentage point up on August's 13 per cent, but these slight rises have been seen before - and so far always followed by a drop.
Still, it's hard to conclude that the arrival of the media tablet, as typified by the iPad, hasn't played a part in the netbook's decline, though we'd also suggest that disappointment with the battery life, performance and portability issues - for small computers, modern netbooks are surprisingly chunky - will have been factors too.
Consumer Tablet Preferences
"Which of the following tablets devices are you most likely to purchase?"
CW's numbers show by far the majority of punters considering the purchase of a tablet have their eye on the iPad - 80 per cent of them - but that other vendors' offerings are starting to score.
The bad news for Apple's biggest competitor so far - Samsung, with its Galaxy Tab - is that more than twice as many consumers are interested in the RIM BlackBerry Playbook that the Tab, which rates only slightly higher than the HP Slate/PalmPad and the Dell Streak.
But what all these gadgets offer is easy consumption of media and web access in a conveniently sized, light form-factor. All the netbook has to offer is a keyboard - it's fatter, heavier and doesn't run for as long on battery charge. Sure, it has a faster CPU, but not one that gives it a big advantage in the tasks the netbooks and tablets are typically put to.
So, is it time to admit that the netbook has had its day? Was it just a brief distraction until the industry could come up with a UMPC - remember them? - that was actually worth using?
Or did the manufacturers get it all wrong, cramming their machines with fragile HDDs rather than resilient SSDs and trying to make netbooks into little laptops rather than the information appliances that tablets have become?
Over to you... ®
I have a dead Sony Vaio Picturebook C1F in my spare parts bin. It is a 2001 machine with 1024x480 screen and dimensions that are even smaller than those of a modern netbook.
While vendors wanted to "think differently" the consumers wanted small notebooks at non-Vaio/non-Tosh pricing and that is what they used the netbooks for. From there on the deliberate crippling of the platform by marketing reqs like "Though shall not have resolution more than 1024x600" killed the market before it could take off.
It is yet another bit of history repeating. Take a bazooka, aim at foot in the name of "non-cannibalisation", shoot. Cannibalising your products is NORMAL. If you do not do that and there is an obvious opportunity and the market is non-regulated someone else bloody well will. The free market will make sure to that. By deliberately chosing not to cannibalise you are giving that competitor an opportunity it may never get otherwise. To make matters worse if you are a monopolist you are also gving that someone the opportunity of a lifetime to break your monopoly. Non-cannibalisation in a non-regulated market is a terminally dumb idea (TM).
The crippling of netbooks gave the tablets finally their chance to shine under the sun, the marketing shenanigans with i810, i840 and the deliberate crippling of i815e and disallowing OEMs to ship systems with full use of its capabilities gave a chance to Athlon to eat a big chunk of consumer space. Let's be real - Athlon was not that much better than P3 and P4 in those days. However, it was not deliberately crippled to specific memory types and limited configurations on purely marketing grounds. And so on... There are plenty of examples to this in just Intel's recent history.
an ipad is not a computer
I am an avid netbook user and use it everyday while doing the sysadmin thing. It's light, runs XP well, and can run 6.5 hours without a charge. AND it has USB ports. AND it runs Flash. The ipad is not a computer and most of the users who have got them say, "I'm going to use it for movies and work!" and I've never seen a single one of those dummies use it for anything even mildly productive - EVEN in an all Mac office. Most of them don't even use them anymore, let alone carry them around.
Which brings me to my point: A netbook is a tiny computer (albeit with slow components and not enough vertical resolution) and an iPad is an expensive toy for buying things from the Apple store. People seem to be getting the two confused. Other tablets maybe able to create something that IS a usable computer, but the iPad is nothing more than a very large iPod Touch and should be treated as such - not as competition to real computers.
"Just a small laptop"
This is precisely the problem - they're not supposed to be just a small laptop, but that's what they ended up as.
I bought one two years ago precisely because it was small, booted in a few seconds, and had no hard disc but a nice sturdy SSD. It has very limited use as a mobile net access machine (nope, I don't want/have no particular need for a smartphone) but that's fine because that's what it's supremely good at.
I will not buy another netbook because the format has been ruined. Practically all of them have HD's & Windows now. Why? Because people think they're "just small laptops". Frankly if you want a small laptop, that's what you should buy - not a netbook which will almost certainly disappoint if you want to use it for general computing.