Resolved: There Are No Such Things as Netbooks

By  |  Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 11:51 am

Toshiba Mini NotebookResearch firm NPD has released a study that says that not every netbook buyer is a happy camper. For instance, 70 percent of the folks who set out to buy a netbook ended up very satisfied. But only 58 percent of those who initially planned to buy a more traditional notebook but instead chose a netbook wound up very satisfied. The study also shows that only 18-to-24 year olds think the netbooks they bought perform better than they’d expected.

The results aren’t surprising–netbooks are only the right computers for some people, and you’re more likely to be happy with one if it’s the type of PC you want than if you’re buying it because it’s cheaper than a larger, more powerful notebook. But I find it interesting that NPD–and most of the people in the industry who I’ve talked to about netbooks–talk about them as a different type of computer than a notebook. (NPD’s release on its study begins “Netbook, notebook – they sound the same.”)

I think that treating netbooks as something other than notebooks is part of the problem here–and that consumers who consider netbooks to be notebooks are closer to getting it right than manufacturers who insist they’re something different.

Netbooks have small screens; they have basic CPUs and graphics that aren’t well-suited to high-end tasks; thanks in part to Microsoft licensing rules, they have skimpy amounts of RAM. But that doesn’t make them something other than notebooks. It makes them…small, relatively basic notebooks. To treat them as a fundamentally different sort of device is akin to Ford insisting that a Focus isn’t a car because it’s smaller, less powerful, and less luxurious than a Lincoln Continental.

When I chat about netbooks with PC manufacturers, I still get the sense that they make them very nervous. They sure make Microsoft nervous, since it can’t make the profit it’s used to getting for Windows on a $300 computer. It’s pretty common for industry types to cheerfully talk about netbooks being a fad that’ll go away real soon now.

Me, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. I think they’ll get more powerful, and the division between a netbook and a more traditional notebook will blur more and more. (Netbooks, for instance, do away with optical drives to cut costs–but even pricey notebooks are doing the same thing to shed weight, and because optical drives are no longer essential equipment.)

I’d love to see the industry do with netbooks what it’s usually done with new PC form factors–which is to work aggressively to make them more powerful and appealing. (The 1GB RAM cap is ludicrous–my Asus Eee PC 1000HE was wimpy and unsatisfactory until I popped in a 2GB memory chip.) But I still get the sense that the prevailing attitude in the industry–even among some companies that sell tons of netbooks–is that they’re an aberration that oughta fade away rather than a significant part of the future of notebooks. Can we start making them better by at least acknowledging that they are, in fact, notebooks?



10 Comments For This Post

  1. Owen Says:

    Hi Harry,

    Completely agree – I’ve had a ‘netbook’ for almost exactly a year at this point – and it rapidly became my primary computer. But I treat it as a notebook that happens to be very portable. I really wish it had more memory and a better resolution – don’t care about the screen size – just want the resolution. But I knew what I was getting and have been very happy. Everyone I know who has one – quite a few people – and likes it also treats it as their notebook. One or two use it as their main computer (like me) but mostly it is just their portable computer – small and light enough that they actually DO take it most places.

  2. naysh Says:

    arrgh! folks!! Anyone sets out to buy a notebook and ends up with a netbook deserves what they get.

  3. Dave Winer Says:

    If they would let us continue to run XP on them, sure call them whatever you want. The name is a way to let Microsoft continue to extract huge royalties from unsuspecting high-end users.

    I think the existence of this market is proof that there’s been price-fixing among the manufacturers.

    I like the small form-factor and yeah I like the low price. I’m not a bargain-hunter in most things, but I like cheap computers that do a lot for some reason.

    One more thing — the existence of netbooks is to Microsoft as the existence of blogs is to newspaper publishers. The genie isn’t going back in this bottle, I’m afraid.

  4. doranb Says:

    When I think of netbooks, I think about form factor more than power. And I *do* think there should be some easy way to differentiate between something the size of a thin hard-cover book, and something the size of a standard 3-ring binder. So yea, I’ll stick with the term “netbooks” for now to describe these smaller notebook computers.

  5. richardmitnick Says:

    I just went to the bog box store to buy some DVD-R blanks on sale. I walked past this neat little thing, a netbook, an Acer 150-1635. Wow!! Ethernet port; three USB 2.0 ports; VGA port; 160 gig hard drive; 1 gig DRAM – the perfect replacement for my almost dead Dell Inspiron 8000 PIII machine. That machine was at this point managing a 1Tb hard drive full of music and video and “crunching” for and

    US$299.00. Terrific. But, none in stock. Quick run to five other stores. All with the same aisle-end stand-up Acer display with this neat little blue netbook. None in stock. Run home. Check on line. In stock for immediate shipment at another outlet. Two days shipment, because I am leaving on a trip and I want to get it configured before I go.

    Success. It arrives, I do the security with a free anti-virus (no suite, please), register WinXP, get Open Office, load the software I need. Ready for the trip.

    The netbook has been worth exactly what I paid for it. It is NOT a substitute for my two Core-2-Duo Dell XPS machines. But it adequately does what I want, manages the hard drive and “crunches”, and with the Atom N270, which is hyperthreaded, crunches two work units at once and each twice as fast as the PIII it replaced.

    So, my experience, and I am 68 yeasr old, not 18-24, is exactly what I expected. Thank you Acer and Microsoft.

  6. drew Says:

    You wrote:
    “Ford insisting that a Focus isn’t a car because it’s smaller, less powerful, and less luxurious than a Lincoln Continental.”

    But Ford would say that one is a luxury car, and the other a subcompact. I think the issue here is the form factor, rather than the guts of the machine. My netbook can do most of what my old notebook does, and it weighs a lot less.

    I think the term “netbook” is a marketing gimmick, although it does capture well what I use mine for: connecting to the web for e-mail, Google Docs and such.

  7. Tom Reestman Says:

    I’ve always considered netbooks the “cheap” cheap laptop.

    You’re right about them making Microsoft nervous. Microsoft’s new maximum specifications for Windows 7 Starter Edition attempts to “hardware fix” the bottom end of the hardware spectrum. In Microsoft’s eyes, a netbook good enough for an 11- or 12-inch screen is good enough for Home Premium.

    I think Microsoft’s rigid, structured tiered edition/pricing model is being outdated here. They’re going to have to adjust in a manner other than strong-arming hardware manufacturers to create a class of machine the market isn’t calling for.

  8. Charlotte Says:

    @ drew you’re right; it is a marketing gimmick. I used to work for ASUS and we were watching carefully in the channel to make sure no one uses any terms to describe Eee PC as “small notebooks” or “mini notebooks”. Otherwise, the consumers would expect that an Eee PC to perform as a normal notebook. That was ASUS’s effort in market segmentation.

    The line between the netbooks and notebooks is blurring, though. The difference between a 10″ Eee PC + normal hard drive and ASUS N10 (categorized as a “notebook) is minimal (only in graphics performance, in fact). Such is the trend of the market.

  9. KM. Says:

    I bought my Eee PC last year and I got exactly what I wanted – a cheap portable Internet device. I’m perfectly happy with it.

  10. JDoors Says:

    @Charlotte: “I used to work for ASUS and we were watching carefully in the channel to make sure no one uses any terms to describe Eee PC as “small notebooks” or “mini notebooks”. Otherwise, the consumers would expect that an Eee PC to perform as a normal notebook. That was ASUS’s effort in market segmentation.”

    Harry, that says (to me, anyway): There IS such a thing as a “netbook.” It’s a notebook, sure, but with limited functionality compared to other notebooks. To use your example; a Ford Focus is a car, sure, but with limited functionality compared to other cars such as a Lincoln Continental.

    They are all functionally different in many ways that will be important to entirely different consumer targets. You wouldn’t “market” a netbook to the notebook consumer, just as you wouldn’t market the Focus to the Continental consumer.

4 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. HP’s Mini 5101: Netbook Deluxe, With All the Trimmings | Technologizer Says:

    […] all:&nbspNews The PC industry may continue to be a tad uneasy with the popularity of netbooks, but there’s no question that the little guys are selling well–and not just to folks on […]

  2. Netbooks are nothing but basic notebooks. Period. Says NPD | TechFever Network | The Hot Tech News and Gadget Network Says:

    […] [Link] [via] Written by TechFever.NET • Filed Under ALL NEWS, NEWS • […]

  3. links for 2009-06-24 | Señorita Murrell Says:

    […] Resolved: There Are No Such Things as Netbooks | Technologizer (tags: netbooks article) […]

  4. PC Pitstop’s “Top Loved Netbooks” | Technologizer Says:

    […] People are buying scads of the pint-sized laptops known as netbooks these days, but there’s some controversy over whether they’re happy with the machines they get. Here’s some pro-netbook fodder: My friends at PC Pitstop scan millions of Windows PCs as […]