The emerging race and development of netbooks may be one of the most significant events in the portable computing market in the last 10 years.
Netbooks—scaled down portables designed almost exclusively for on-the fly email and minimal computing tasks—have caught the attention of users and manufacturers alike.
They also pose a challenge to an industry that’s been forced to market products with razor’s edge profits while at the same time providing users with enough competitive features to keep brands not just alive, but flourishing.
Because most netbooks are relatively inexpensive (less than $500) they are expected to be an important part of the 9 percent growth in mobile computing, according to a analyst firm IDC, which made the prediction in a report it issued last month.
IDC noted that price is a paramount reason for the hockey stick growth of netbooks. The IT market analyst firm predicts 3.5 million such machines will ship this year and 9.2 million by 2012.
(disclosure: at two times in my career I worked for entities—InfoWorld and Demo—that were owned by the same company that owns IDC—jmf)
Other IT analyst firms say the growth of netbooks will be much more dramatic.
Portable computer designers note that most companies will be quick to market with multiple netbook products, some of which will likely be focused on specific market segments (field sales, field repair technicians and public safety are three markets often singled out by designers) and include features not found in entry-level products. High on that list will be netbooks with integrated 802.11 and WAN wireless capabilities.
Many of today’s portable makers look enviously at netbooks like the Asus Eee PC, which has captured and retains early netbook market share. But netbook products aren’t likely to come only from notebook manufacturers and two other companies to watch in this space could be Palm Inc. and at least one highly successful online retailer.
Palm Inc., which introduced a companion device ( i.e. a netbook by another name) earlier this year but in early September cancelled that product in it’s initial configuration so that the company could focus on its mainstream smart phone business, said Palm’s CEO Ed Colligan in a blog entry on Palm.com in early September.
Colligan wrote: “Jeff Hawkins and I still believe that the market category defined by Foleo has enormous potential. When we do Foleo II it will be based on our new platform, and we think it will deliver on the promise of this new category. We're not going to speculate now on timing for a next Foleo, we just know we need to get our core platform and smartphones done first.”
Sources close to Palm hint that Foleo II could be announced at or shortly after the next Palm Developer’s conference, where the company is expected to unveil the next version of it Palm operating system, as well as other new products.
Amazon is another company that could take an existing product, the Kindle, and adapt it for the netbook market. Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader already supports WAN wireless networking and is based on a form factor that could be easily used as an email device—the heart and soul of netbooks.
As the current economy is reefed tighter, netbooks may be one of the emerging hardware categories that give IT departments and mobile computing manufacturers room to grow and breathe—Jim Forbes, 10/08/2008.