The Expanding Middle Class of Mobile Devices

Carl Weinschenk

The best advice for anyone interested in mapping the continually morphing world of mobile devices in the category between cell phones and laptops is to concentrate on mapping something simpler and more straightforward, such as the human genome.

 

A long article at EE Times offers a tremendous amount of background on the category, which includes netbooks, smartbooks, smartphones, mobile Internet devices, ultramobile PCs, "cloudbooks" and others.

 

The story offers three very telling graphics. The first divvies up the mobile device category, which it says will reach 165 million units next year, between notebooks (79.4 percent), netbooks (17 percent) and smartbooks/MIDs (3.6 percent). The second graphic tracks those numbers from last year to 2014 and sees an increase in smartphones and smartbooks/MIDs, an initial increase and then a leveling off for netbooks and a decrease in notebooks. The third graphic profiles nine popular devices by category, hardware, operating system and screen size. The story as well as another EE Times piece that is linked to-speculates on the possible emergence of a "cloudbook."

 

Of course, vendors are figuring this all out as they go along. GigaOm's Om Malik maintains, essentially, that the gravity imposed by the big vendors is bringing the initial netbook idea back to earth. More specifically, acccording to Malik, Asus introduced the new concept with the EeePC. Other vendors followed suit. But the issue is that they are not a terribly creative or innovative lot. Their approach is to woo customers with more horsepower and shiny features, such as bigger displays, rather than innovating on design. This turns the the netbooks into small notebooks. The first line of his post aptly sums up his view:

 

Netbooks, as they were originally envisioned, may already be a dying breed.



Malik doesn't mean, of course, that the netbook category itself will disappear. His suggestion is that the real differences between netbooks and bigger devices will fade.

 

That eventually may come to pass. The differences are very much intact today, however, at least in terms of price. That is evident in a report released by DisplaySearch last week that looked at portable PC revenue.

 

The firm says that netbook sales are way up. That's bad news for mobile device vendors, since netbooks are inexpensive and the popularity comes out of the hide of more expensive computing devices. In the second quarter, the firm says, the PC market revenue was $26.4 billion. That's 10 percent more than the first quarter-but 5 percent less than the year-ago quarter. Netbook revenue rose, however, 264 percent between the two quarters and the devices now represent 11.7 percent of the mobile PC market. The conundrum is that a hot new category is a good thing -- unless that category is isn't a profitable as the one it partially replaces.

 

The category-the wild, wild middle of mobile devices, so to speak-pits new entrants against entrenched vendors. Each will influence the other. The group that ultimately will speak loudest, however, are the customers.



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