2012: The year that netbooks DIED
Last remaining makers preparing to exit market
Netbooks – those compact, underpowered, inexpensive notebook PCs once hailed as the future of mobile computing – are set to disappear from retailer shelves in 2013, as the last remaining manufacturers of the devices prepare to exit the market.
According to Taiwanese tech news site DigiTimes, Acer and Asus are the only two hardware makers still producing netbooks, and they are mainly doing so to sell them to emerging markets such as South America and Southeast Asia.
Even that won't last long, DigitTimes reports. Acer has said it has no plans to develop any further netbook products, while Asus announced in September that it planned to discontinue its Eee PC netbook line by the end of 2012.
Once the last netbooks roll out of Acer's and Asus's factories, it will spell the end of a once-crowded market. Other big-name competitors – including HP, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba, among others – have long since ceased production of the tiny devices.
It's not hard to see why. Analysts were initially bullish on netbooks because of their compact size and low price tags. The devices were so cheap, in fact, that it was easy to overlook that their real-world performance was generally lackluster.
Underpowered Intel Atom processors made netbooks useless as number crunchers, while their miniaturized keyboards often made even basic word processing a chore. Their tiny, low-resolution screens made for a cramped desktop experience, and 3D gaming was pretty much out of the question.
It soon became clear that, given their low-end specs and their impracticality for day-to-day computing, netbooks really had only one clear edge over traditional laptops: price. Manufacturers moved swiftly to nullify that advantage, offering more traditionally sized notebooks with beefier components at prices roughly equivalent to those of netbooks.
Today, the most popular use case for netbooks – that of a secondary computing device for web browsing – is largely being filled by tablets, which are generally priced the same or even cheaper than netbooks but offer touchscreens, and are therefore more fun to play Angry Birds on.
Many newer tablet models can more accurately be described as hybrid devices, with optional detachable keyboards that lend them a decidedly netbook-like user experience.
About the only company still actively marketing devices that look like netbooks is Google, with its line of Chromebook boot-to-browser devices. The Chocolate Factory has not disclosed how many Chromebooks – which are manufactured by Acer and Samsung – it has sold, but estimates are low.
Meanwhile, the original netbook concept of a compact, ultraportable PC has reemerged in the form of Ultrabooks, Intel's attempt to encourage PC makers to develop devices to compete with Apple's extra-slim MacBook Air.
Ultrabooks will likely fare better in the market than netbooks did, if for no other reason that unlike netbooks, Ultrabooks won't be a race to the bottom for manufacturers. Instead of being marketed as cheap, secondary computing devices, Ultrabooks will carry premium specs and price tags to match.
But even Ultrabooks' prices will eventually decline, and according to Juniper Research, by 2016 virtually every notebook will resemble an Ultrabook, leaving the netbook era as little more than a quaint and whimsical memory.
If you still have a soft spot for netbooks, however, take heart. There are still plenty of the devices in the channel, and if you think they're priced cheaply now, wait until Acer, Asus, and retailers begin liquidating their remaining inventories in 2013. ®
I remember the whole matter differently
I see a little revisionist history in this article. From what I recall, it wasn't the low cost and minimal resources that made the netbook market dwindle, those two factors are what made netbooks so popular. It showed the PC manufacturers there was actually a huge market of people who wanted cheap, affordable devices to do things like check their email, write a letter, and listen to music. A lot of non-techie people simply didn't want or need a full blown laptop. I also recall back around 2008 when we all were coping a global economic downturn, it was the surge of netbook sales that helped keep a lot of computer manufacturers going.
Both Intel and Microsoft hated netbooks because the limited profit margin didn't fit in with their typical high-markup business models, and they also took steps to minimize netbook adoption (i.e. putting artificial caps on hardware specs). Despite the Intel/MS hate on the netbook line and the manufacturers odd choice to use only minimally functional Linux distros when much, much better options were available, netbooks were still quite popular, more in the EU than in America. In retrospect, netbooks did have their limitations but there was also a lot of bad marketing that helped confuse a lot of consumers by making netbooks out to be some kind of cheap laptop option when they clearly were not, by design they were NOT supposed to match the functionality of any typical 'laptop'. MS bullying the manufacturers to turn netbooks in Windows PCs (quite a mismatch) and Apple bringing out the iPad were two big factors in the death of netbooks. Hard to diminish the impact of tablet devices on the PC market as whole even.
Re: sad to see them die
Linux - When Netbooks were first introduced most came pre-installed with Ubuntu (or another Linux variant). But there was no appetite for it, so when M$ eventually introduced Windows 7 Starter, nearly ever manufacturer dropped the Linux and moved to Windows.
When netbooks were first introduced they came with Linux to keep the price down -- these were £200 PCs -- because the cost of a Windows licence would have made them too expensive for their limited functionality. The distros were poorly chosen, and didn't show Linux in the best light ... so people put (usually pirated) copies of Windows XP onto them instead. Windows was the obvious choice, once the factory-installed Linux had been found wanting, because it was familiar. I put Ubuntu onto my original Asus EEE PC 701 and it was more than adequate for that hardware.
This prompted Microsoft to offer XP Home licences very cheaply to netbook OEMs, and later to bring out the restricted (2GB RAM max) "Starter" version of Windows 7. This meant that the OS licence cost was a much smaller proportion of the unit cost, and Windows became a more realistic option.
Many netbooks were (in theory) still available with either Linux of Windows, but the Linux version was usually no cheaper than the Windows one (some manufacturers sold Linux models with more flash storage than the Windows model, but at the same price ... so I guess the equal pricing may have been an MS licensing term). Retailers never had the Linux models in stock, believing (perhaps with some justification) that the buying public would buy what they were familiar with, especially if there was no cost differential, and doubtless also afraid that if they pushed Linux they might have to learn to support it.
Linux would have been more successful earlier on if the manufacturers had chosen a more polished distro, but it was never really given a chance to blossom.
sad to see them die
@Jordan Davenport - indeed - but if someone puts Linux or Android on them, then they will sell, as they will be faster on cheaper hardware. What really happened was that they only become available with Windows, and the market rejected that combination.