Analysis of IT news

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How netbooks are heading the wrong way

Netbooks have become very popular this year, so much that it's the fastest growing segment of PCs for this gloomy year.

But netbooks have already started to head in the wrong direction. As I already wrote, people have a tendancy to see new technology as a newcomer to an existing market instead of a market of its own (Seeing a replacement when there's none)

And netbooks are no exception. For instance, HP's netbook is shipped with Windows Vista. Yes, resource-hungry Vista on a very lightweight PC. But don't think that Linux-based netbooks are any better: they all have Windows envy and all feature applications such as a word processor.

The problem is that PC manufacturers are thinking like their customers. That is, their *current* customers, not the potential customers - those who don't have any laptop. And what do those current customers want? To be able to run their favorite apps. They're craving for faster netbooks, larger screens, etc. I'm sure pre-installing Vista was a no-brainer for HP. Other netbooks are shipped with Windows XP, theirs have Vista. Isn't that a competitive advantage? You will also notice that netbook Pioneer Asus Eee PC has been becoming more powerful, larger and more expensive as time went by. So much that the latest model looks almost like a regular notebook.

In other words, any true innovative netbook will come from companies that are *not* PC manufacturers. Only such a company can see the true potential of a netbook: being an Internet appliance more than a computer. Something that doesn't try to run Microsoft Office, that boots instantly and that hides all the complexity of a computer - just like smart phones are doing.

It's no surprise then that the first ray of hope came from chipmaker Freescale who just announced a $200 netbook for later this year. Instead of using an Intel Atom like all the other netbooks they're using their own ARM-based chip which combines processor, graphic chips and memory bridge. As a result their netbook will be both very thin and consume very little power (their chip allegedely consumes 3 watts as opposed to 14 watts for the Intel Atom chipset). They of course had to sacrifice Windows compatibility, something PC manufacturers will never do.

I wish Apple was announcing a netbook as they will only enter this market if they can release something that will blast what's already out there - just like they did with the iPhone. But they might not want to do so if Steve fears it cannibalizes their entry-level laptops. The jury's still out.

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