Is This as Good as It Gets for the Netbook?

Carl Weinschenk

There has been a bit of cognitive dissonance recently concerning the netbook sector.

GigaOm has posted some graphics (with additional materials available from its subscription service), giving credit to and The title, "The Rise of Netbooks," shows the slant of the graphics (and, presumably, the rest of the material) toward these devices, which are well described at The Lost Cause.


Among other things, it traces the increases in sales in different regions between 2008 and last year. They are impressive: North America was up 137 percent; Europe, Middle East and Africa rose 81 percent; Japan gained 29 percent; Asia Pacific clocked in with a 65 percent gain; China rose 260 percent and Latin America gained 88 percent.


A second graphic says netbook sales revenue increased from $6.65 million in 2008 to $11.4 million last year. The total will remain the same this year, though unit shipments will increase. Vendors will take that trade -- equal revenue, but an increase in units -- since a reduction unit pricing is a given.


Clearly, the piece is bullish on netbooks. In its most recent assessment of the PC market, however, IDC offered a different view. It concludes that price reductions on mobile devices in general will slow as the economy improves, but doesn't see as great a future for netbooks as does GigaOm. The findings were summarized at InformationWeek:


IDC also sees drastically slower growth in netbooks, the inexpensive mini-laptops that drove shipment growth in the PC market last year. Declining prices for other portable PCs, along with the fact that netbooks offer less functionality, will translate into netbook shipment growth falling below that of the mobile PC market as a whole, the researcher said.


Last week, Gartner sort of took a middle stance. It said that mini-notebooks -- which are synonymous with netbooks -- will be a big driver this year, but will fade thereafter because they will be pushed by ultra-low-voltage ultraportables and next-generation tablets, including the Apple iPad. Mobile devices in general, the report says, will drive PC sales. It says that last year, mobile PCs represented 55 percent of PC shipments. That figure will grow to 70 percent by 2012.


A careful look suggests that what GigaOm says about netbooks-at least in the part of its report that is available for free -- does not directly contradict the views of IDC and Gartner. GigaOm is assessing the recent past and the two analysts' houses view of the future. Clearly, however, GigaOm is positioning the devices in a more upbeat light than either of the research houses. The truth is, of course, that nobody knows what will happen as the roiling, chaotic and infinitely entertaining mobile landscape continues to evolve.

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