Ever since Steve Jobs announced the iPad back in January, and famously stated that tablets fill a void that even the best netbooks failed to occupy with any real substance, tech manufacturers all over the world, such as ASUS, LG and Microsoft have jumped on the bandwagon and followed suit announcing, with intent to produce, their own tablet devices.
So, it begs the question where does this leave the netbook market, which is still flourishing according to sales figures? And will the general public, the average Joe, opt for the good ol’ physical QWERTY over the tablet devices like the iPad? And how can netbooks adapt to an increasingly crowded market?
Well ASUS, generally considered the pioneer of the netbook with the ASUS Eee PC, has reacted strongly to the surge of tablet devices coming on to the market not only with their own ASUS Eee Pad tablet device, but with their latest Eee netbook, the 1215n featuring a dual-core Atom processor clocked at an above average 1.8Ghz in addition to ION based graphics with Optimus switching technology between the integrated and discrete GPU.
These are all features you would expect to find in a regular notebook PC, not a standard netbook. Because that is exactly what it isn’t I’m afraid. With a 12” display and a price perilously close to decent laptop territory, it will be hard to convince the masses to adopt such an elaborate approach to their everyday computing. At the end of the day, the target market of a netbook is the average user, web browsing, e-mail, word processing etc. – not heavy duty stuff, so is the bumped spec even necessary?
Perhaps they stick with the spec they have, with the usual 1.6Ghz, 1Gb RAM and perhaps ION graphics at a stretch for movie playback, and focus entirely on battery prowess. I can imagine that an ordinary netbook buyer looking for the ability to perform simple computing tasks everyday, whilst on the move, would opt for a full day of battery life on a limited machine over a high spec netbook, which delivers a short burst of brilliance. Though personal preference is obviously a key factor here.
IT analyst Gartner predict that tablet devices will not make a huge dent in netbook sales figures until 2013, by which time they will have assumed similar functionality to netbooks such as being able to run a fully-fledged operating system without any noticeable go-slow. HP was initially criticised for their decision to put Windows 7 on the HP Slate, though it is now predicted that WebOS will be the primary focus of their attention since their acquisition of Palm last month. Manufacturer Acer predicts that by the end of 2010, 58 million netbooks will have been shipped worldwide. Gartner also states that netbooks will account for a fifth of all mobile PC sales in 2010, though this figure will see a fairly dramatic decline in the next 3 or 4 years. So the question still remains, how do netbooks fight back? Or are they coming to the end of their brief stay in the computing sector?
Since the original inception of the netbook just a few years ago, the size of the display has nearly doubled, moving from around 7” to over 12” being the maximum and 10.1” being the approximate average. Is a bigger display something that more manufacturers should consider? Particularly with the technology to make them thinner and lighter becoming readily available. Should netbooks join the ranks of the tablet and feature a ‘reduced’ operating system such as Chrome OS, rumours have been rife of late that Acer is planning to do exactly that, adopting cloud computing as the main forte behind the future of netbooks.
You may have noticed that throughout this article I have done little but propose questions, and boggle your mind with statistics. But being just a mere blogger, I will be the first to admit that I’m as clueless as you are as to the future of netbooks, but personally I do believe that sticking at this point would be disastrous, though I can’t see it happening whilst many manufacturers strive for innovation after innovation and the rest aim to keep up. They need to find a way to make them exciting again, differentiate them from regular notebooks in a way other than form factor. If I knew the answers I would be a millionaire, but at this point I don’t, which is why I will happily join the ranks that simply waits, and take what comes my way.
Where do you think that netbooks should go now? Or is Steve Jobs right that the iPad and other tablet PCs will take over this part of the computing market?