What is a Netbook?
At first there appeared to be a semblance of agreement on what made a Netbook different, and its own category of computer. Intel launched the category with its Atom processor, which promised less computing power, but for far less cost. One Laptop Per Child and Intel led the way with low-cost notebooks intended for developing nations. But Asus broke the category open for consumers in late 2007 with its Eee PC, at first equipped with a tiny 7-inch screen, little chiclet keys, solid-state memory, and Linux instead of Windows.
Much has changed since then. A year later we have almost as many interpretations of a Netbook as we do manufacturers. Dell defines Netbook differently than Sony, who sees the market in a way that Acer and Hewlett-Packard do not. (And Toshiba refuses to see any Netbook market at all–at least in the U.S.)
Acer and Asus essentially agree on what a Netbook is: a low-power notebook with a 9-inch screen with a price point between $300 and $400. They’re not meant for much beyond connecting to the Web. Those two Taiwanese manufacturers were first to market and have been rewarded handsomely for their efforts, capturing the majority of Netbook market share early on. Acer has done particularly well in Europe.
In late summer, Dell, the largest PC maker in the U.S. and the second largest worldwide, threw its hat into the ring, apparently to defend its territory. The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 was a normal Netbook, but the subsequent Mini 12 was puzzling. By grouping it with the Mini line it’s being sold as a Netbook, but the 12-inch screen size is bumping up dangerously close to smaller traditional notebooks. At just under $600, it also appears to compete with the $699 Dell Inspiron 15.
Each PC vendor is trying to mold the Netbook trend in a way that fits with their own product line. Companies like HP are trying to draw a distinction between Netbooks through software: The Mini 1000 MIE has a custom interface designed to hide the fact that it’s essentially a Linux device. Sony’s also putting its touch on the idea, with the Sony Vaio P Lifestyle PC, an expensive device not aimed at the masses.
By each company tweaking their Netbooks a little here and a little there in the name of differentiating and adding more features that consumers want or expect, they’re basically creating something that looks like yet another notebook PC.
At what cost?
Dell VP of Consumer Sales and Marketing Michael Tatelman insisted at CES last week that it’s “still too early to tell” if by selling Netbooks it is drawing customers away from buying traditional notebooks, which cost more and offer manufacturers higher margins.
“In some places it’s a way to acquire new customers faster, in some places it’s a companion device, and in some places it’s a primary computer,” Tatelman told a crowd of journalists while introducing the company’s third Netbook, the Inspiron Mini 10 last week.
HP also insists Netbooks and notebooks are very separate. To which former Seagate CEO William Watkins promptly snorted and rolled his eyes at the idea in an interview last week. He summed up how the category’s naysayers feel, saying, “A Netbook is just a low-end notebook.”
By the midpoint of this year we’ll be able to assess the damage the Netbook craze has done to traditional notebook revenues, said NPD’s Baker. “We know there will be some (cannibalization), but we’ll find out just how much.”
By Erica Ogg
Filed under: Tecnologia