Around late 2007, a new computer entered the consumer market by appealing to users who wanted something in between their smart phones and laptops. Filling the gap, the Netbook was born. The main purpose of the Netbook? It’s a computer that can browse the Internet, type documents, and still be portable. Most netbooks are powered by Intel’s underwhelming Atom CPUs which improved longevity. Besides their small form factor and long battery life, netbooks continued to penetrate the market with their attractive pricing. Most can be bought for about $300 and even giant retailers like Wal-Mart and Target started selling them. They also worked great on Linux and I even bought one! What’s not to like? They were portable, affordable, and cool. Today, there’s a general consensus that the Netbook is dead or dying. Can this be true? Lets take a look at the signs.
The mainstream do not like Netbooks. Netbooks are looked at as cheap, underpowered laptops. The mainstream values power over longevity. This is probably why people drool over the latest 1-2Ghz smart phones but battery life is a second thought. The same can be said about computers. If you think about it, marketing power is easy. “This laptop is the fastest on the market” sounds much more appealing than “This netbook lasts twice as long as that fast laptop.” Power is easy to market and trying to sell an “underpowered laptop” is difficult to say the least. Another reason the mainstream don’t like Netbooks is their build quality. Netbooks are affordable. The side-effects of affordability is a reduction in quality. In order to keep their prices down, luxuries like a metal body must be replaced with plastic. One can argue that you are getting a good value, but try convincing that to a culture that is infatuated with expensive iProducts.
MSRP Buy… I mean Best Buy
I was in the market for a netbook last year and Best Buy had tons of them for sale. Unfortunately, they all had the N450 single-core processors. I spoke to one of the staff and asked him if they were getting the dual-core N550 soon. He told me perhaps they are clearing out the N450 netbooks before they stock in the new one. Flash forward a year later and Best Buy still has these crappy N450 Atom netbooks on their shelves! I’m glad I didn’t wait. I ordered my Asus EeePC off Amazon and put that sucker to work. If I am in the market for another netbook, my money will probably go to Amazon again. Why? Because the retail industry suck. Why, after a year, does Best Buy still have netbooks that are years out-dated? I mean, this is not a flea market. This is supposed to be an electronics retailer. Electronics go out of date the day they hit the store shelf. Lets get some new models already!
I think a few things might be going on. They could be liquidating the ones they have in stock. That makes some sense. If netbooks are dying, why order new units? Why not just get rid of the ones you have? On the other hand, if you are trying to sell a bunch of new tablets, why promote a competing product? Out with the old, in with the new, right? Maybe retailers don’t have much faith in netbooks anymore? Maybe they ARE dying? One thing is clear, if netbooks are not dying, the retail industry is not helping.
The Tablet Experience
Many analysts predicted that the tablet market will eventually kill off netbooks. People needed a product to fill in the gap between their phones and their laptops. Netbooks and tablets did just that. Although netbooks had a head start in the market, tablets continue to fill the shelves of electronics retailers gaining massive popularity. Another interesting thing about tablets is their demographic. Both tablets and netbooks aim at similar markets but tablets are more geared towards consumers. A netbook’s main strength is the physical keyboard and full operation system. Tablet OS are less featured and generally dependant on app quality. App design and quality varies on most tablet OS and they haven’t had as much time to mature compared with traditional desktop OS. Tablets seem to have a disadvantage, right? They don’t have keyboards. Their OS is not geared for production. And yet they are still more popular. This leads me to believe that most people are looking to buy tablets for another purpose; consuming media. And that is probably why the netbook is dying. The gap between smart phones and laptops is more fit for consumers than producers. Producers would rather use a laptop or a desktop to edit images and video over a netbook. The only real production work you can do on a netbook without hiccups is word processing. With tablets, you can browse the web, listen to music, view photos, watch videos, and play games easily. You can’t really edit videos or images effectively on tablets but consuming media fulfill the needs of most people. Perhaps in the future, they will be powerful enough to handle production tasks.
In the meantime, the relatively new experience of using gestures and a touchscreen as a main input method is fun and intuitive. This “tablet experience” makes it easy for anyone to pick one up and use without being well versed with computers. Maybe the market is asking for a new way to use the computer.
The Future of Netbooks?
Do I think netbooks are dying? Yes, sort of. Netbooks are becoming less popular in the mainstream but there is still a demand for them. Students who want a computer are still more likely to buy a netbook over a tablet because of their physical hardware keyboard. Netbooks are becoming a bit stale. There’s nothing about netbooks that really impresses consumers. They don’t offer anything new. Sure they are smaller and slowly getting more powerful. Anything else? The tablet experience is fresh and while some people thought it was a passing fad, they are still going strong. The fact that netbooks are small and affordable means they can be transported easier by student and purchased in bulk by school districts. Aside from the education sector, netbooks in the consumer market only seem to attract a small niche. Unfortunately, unless something drastic happens, like a huge bump in processing power, I continue to see interest in netbooks decline. As someone who is a part of this niche, this makes me sad. What do you thing? Are netbooks dying?