Netbooks Provide Some Rare Good News

Carl Weinschenk

At least one sector -- the netbook -- is expected to have a good year. Perhaps some of the positive momentum is due to the redistribution of expenditures from other device classes. Indeed it's interesting to watch as various form factors vie for consumer attention. The reality is that fickle consumers have more choice simply because small devices can do a wider variety of things.


This IT World blog tries to make some sense of the confusing sector. Blogger James Gaskin says people who create a lot of documents on the road may be better off with a laptop or netbook. Folks who use their devices mostly to surf should strongly consider smartphones. His rules of thumb seem to make sense. That is not, however, the main point. Users, including those who are traveling on business, have to take a fresh look at which device best suits them, since the landscape is fluid.


The good news in the laptop segment is that shipments, according to the NPD Group, were up significantly in 2008, and particularly in December. For the year, shipments grew 21 percent. If netbooks are subtracted from the total, the increase falls to 16 percent. In December, laptop growth was 23 percent, reaching to 1.9 million units. Fourteen percent of the growth was attributed to netbooks.


Though netbooks, which the story says are synonymous with mini-laptops, have been on the scene for a while, they only started making a significant impact during the second half of the year. Perhaps the most interesting figures in the research concern the price of devices. Last January, the average laptop price was $861. In December, it was $740. Without the influence of netbooks, the price would have dropped-but only to $795. agrees that netboooks are on the road to strong sales. The site says that integrated circuit companies in Taiwan are seeing increased orders this month. This is due to a new Asus Eee PC, Acer Aspire Ones and the debut of the Sony P family.


There are challenges in defining the category. That's a problem, because a clear product definition is a prerequisite to success in the marketplace. That may be especially true for netbooks, which are new on the scene and trying to fill a rapidly changing niche. ZDNet blogger Dana Blankenhorn says a netbook is characterized by the absence of any moving parts. This, he says, makes it cheaper and tougher. The lack of moving parts, however, makes them more akin to cellphones and other handheld gadgets. This will have significant ramifications for vendors such as Dell and HP.


It will be interesting to see if Apple releases a netbook. The Christian Science Monitor suggests that the company is not about to do so. The writer says that there are rumors that it is interested, and points out why it is a good idea. However, Apple obviously has tapped the smartphone as the device that can satisfy the segment of people who don't quite need a full-blown laptop. That said, it seems very possible that Apple will see the kinds of numbers NPD and others are finding and release a product.

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