MIDs, Smartphones and Netbooks Vie for a Place in the Pocket

Carl Weinschenk

One of the issues that will be discussed, but certainly not settled, during the next year is the relationship between smartphones, netbooks and mobile Internet devices (MIDs). IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle discussed one aspect of the battle -- the faceoff between smartphones and netbooks -- at the end of last year. The bottom line is that categories all are distinct, but overlap enough that the success of one will come at the expense of the others-especially in a recessionary environment.


bMighty columnist Paul Korzenowski points to ABI Research findings that netbooks are on the fast track, a trend I commented on last month. Korzenowski says that the category's main attraction compared to small laptops is their lower price, which -- at $300 to $600 -- is a particularly great advantage these days. The list of manufacturers who have joined the netbook race-including Acer, Asustek, Dell, HP, Meion, MSI, OLPC and Samsung-is impressive. In the longer term, however, it is possible that the cool factor will wear off and the category's weaknesses, which include small screens and keyboards and an inordinate number of glitches, could slow the category down. He concludes that netbooks have their place, but that it is unlikely that they will dominate the industry.

The tone of this FireceWireless piece tracking the success-or lack thereof-of the MIDs should served as a cautionary tale for netbook makers. The category was hot at one point, but has cooled considerably. Their attractiveness, the writer says, has faded as the profile of smartphones and netbooks has grown. The problem MIDs face is that they are too big for most pockets, but not big enough to be used for significant computing tasks. Thus, owners have to carry at least two devices in addition to the MID: A phone and a laptop. The sense of the story is that the harder the prospective users look, the smaller the and more tenuous the use case is.


This post validates the notion that netbooks are finding success, at least if western Europe is considered a good measure. The piece quotes Gartner figures that say the new form factor accounted for 2.5 million of the 20.1 million PCs sold during the fourth quarter of last year. Indeed, netbooks saved the PC's beacon. Overall shipments rose 12.1 percent against the year-ago quarter -- but would have declined without the netbook contribution. The biggest netbook vendor in the region was Asustek, which makes the popular Eee. The company shipped 1.49 million units, a big increase from the 513,000 shipped in the year-ago quarter. Its market share roes from 2.9 percent to 7.4 percent. Total numbers shipped are only part of the picture, since the cost of a netbook is low. The average selling price of a PC fell 15 percent against the fourth quarter of 2007, the story said.

In most cases, the history of a particular type of computing device is interesting, but not directly relevant to corporate buying decisions. That lineage may be a bit more important in the case of netbooks, simply because so much has happened in a very short period of time. Ars Technica tells the interesting story of the concept-which dates all the way back to the HP 200LX in 1994. Obviously, a lot has changed in the interim. The story traces these events and describes key introductions along the way, such as the OQO Model 01 and the Origami concept from Microsoft, which the piece says marked the divergence of MIDs and the ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC). The piece is interesting, and the history is fresh enough that an understanding will make it more likely that an organization will end up with the device that best suits its needs.

The shades of gray that await a personal or corporate shopper are an unstated theme of this jkOnTheRun piece that asks the question of whether netbooks are taking a bite out of MID sales. The piece opens by agreeing with the assumption that netbooks are hurting notebook sales. The writer than digresses into a comparison of MIDs and smartphones. The two are closely related, he says. The main difference is that one makes traditional voice calls and the other doesn't. Finally, he echoes the prevaling thought that the focus has shfted from MIDs to netbooks. The author concludes that the combination of the emerging netbook category and smarter smartphones will consign MIDs to a "market niche at best."

It is an understatement to say that the handheld devices arena is confusing. Indeed, the best thing corporate planners can do is disregard category labels and shop purely based on their organization's requirements.

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