Sorry, Consumers, You Still Mistakenly Like Netbooks

By  |  Friday, July 17, 2009 at 8:29 am

Erica Ogg of CNET has a good story up on upcoming notebooks based on ultra low-voltage chips. They’re thin and light, with good battery life, and will run between $600 and $1000. Sounds pretty appealing–I could see myself going for one as my next notebook. I remain amused, however, by the degree to which the industry keeps saying that the netbooks it’s selling by the million are lousy machines that it needs to rescue consumers from.

From another Cnet story:

“Now, if you want a thin and light notebook, you don’t have to just pick a Netbook. You can pick an affordable notebook that has more functionality,” [Intel CEO Paul] Otellini said.


“When we first released our ultraportable (ultra-thin) a lot of people looked at it and said, ‘oh it’s Netbook,'” said Kelt Reeves, president of enthusiast PC maker Falcon Northwest. “No, it’s close to a Netbook in size but it’s much, much more capable,” Reeves said, addressing user misconceptions.

Windows 7 may not go very far in correcting all the confusion. “Windows 7 runs well even on a $199 Netbook,” said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at investment bank Collins Stewart. Kumar said Intel may continue to have trouble managing consumer perceptions of Netbooks and ultra-thins.

Again and again, we’re told that consumers are buying netbooks because they’re confused, not because they make sense for some folks. And the fact that Windows 7 runs well on netbooks is apparently…a problem. Bad Microsoft. Bad, bad Microsoft.

The notebooks the PC industry wants to replace netbooks cost more and have higher profit margins. Coincidence?



12 Comments For This Post

  1. Matthew Says:

    I bought a more powerful desktop and a netbook with the money from selling my old laptop. I only miss the laptops on business trips. I could be a little more productive on a ‘real’ notebook.

    I can also use my netbook on my lap. That makes it several times more capable than my last one!

  2. Miche Doherty Says:

    Aren’t you confusing “like” with “buy”? People don’t generally buy cheaper computers because they prefer them, but because they can afford them. It seems a lot of netbook customers are disappointed by machines they expected would be closer in performance to “real” notebooks.

  3. JDoors Says:

    @Harry: “The notebooks the PC industry wants to replace netbooks cost more and have higher profit margins. Coincidence?”

    Not “coincidence,” but the OTHER “C” word: Capitalism.

    You got somethin’ against that? 😉

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    There are definitely folks who buy a netbook only because they can’t afford anything better, or who buy one and discover they don’t much like it. But there are also people who know what they’re doing, buy netbooks, and are quite pleased with them. (Like me, for instance–and the majority of other people I know who own netbooks.)

    When the industry starts talking about “educating” consumers, it’s often a codeword for “convincing them to buy the stuff we think they should like, even though it’s not catching on.” And I’ve never seen a product category as popular as netbooks that’s been the subject of so much negativity from the companies behind it.


  5. Dan Frakes Says:

    Harry: I’m sure the industry would love for more people to buy more-expensive computers 😉 But I also think there’s genuine concern about a lack of satisfaction: I’ve read in several places that the return rate for netbooks is very high, for all the reasons the recent NPD study cited. So the industry does seem to have a legitimate desire to “educate” consumers about what a netbook is and isn’t. (Although, as you’ve said, what “is” a netbook is changing; it’s no longer necessarily a $250 computer with a tiny screen and keyboard.)

    As for satisfaction, I think there are two main types of netbook buyers: (1) people who buy them because they’re cheap—these likely make up a disproportionately large chunk of the “unsatisfied” group—and (2) tech-savvy people, like you and me, who buy them fully aware of their limitations but still want them for their portability (and, sure, low price).

  6. Jeff Says:

    If the netbooks are running Windows, then they are lousy machines. I’d buy one in minute from a retail outlet if they ran Linux.

  7. Marc Says:

    I used to work in a well known computer superstore here in the UK. Many people would come in a pull the cheapest machine off the shelf and go and pay. I would always stop them and ask them if they had any questions, and if they said yes, I’d gently probe them to find out what they wanted to use it for. “Word and letters” , “a few games for the kids” (think The Sims), “The Internet” , “iPods”, “School work” for common answers.

    I’d then proceed to tell them if what they had in their arms was going to do the job. iPod? You’ll want something that can run iTunes! The Sims? maybe spend £100 extra on something that has a dedicate GFX card. Internet? Wireless I take it? Do you have a wireless router? Word? Well you have to pay extra for that. Homework? Your kids will probably want Office with Powerpoint, do you need that too?

    So I can quite imagine people buying a Netbook because of the low price, and then realising it can’t do certain things. Especially those with <10GB hard disks and 9 inch screens.

    Netbooks are not suppose to be primary machines, do the general public realise this?

  8. Stephen Says:

    People are far too hung up on specs and synthetic benchmarks, ignoring how normal people actually use netbooks. My 8.9″ Aspire One is a perfectly adequate portable PC. OK, it’s performing like a 3-4 year old PC but this is more than enough for everyday XP use.

    For £220, I’ve got a near-silent portable laptop that does everything I need. I got burned with a more expensive laptop in the past – not again….

  9. Backlin Says:

    Believe it or not, I do almost the same exact stuff on my new EEE PC as my old-school DV8315NR, a big sucker with a 17″ screen (the stupid thing was that screen being driven by an old ATi Mobility chipset). I thought mobile gaming would be cool, but I never really did it. Just note-taking in school, web-browsing, and the occasional bout of gaming (which lasted about 45 mins. at max). The only thing I miss about that laptop is the num pad.

  10. JDoors Says:

    @Harry: “When the industry starts talking about “educating” consumers, it’s often a codeword for “convincing them to buy the stuff we think they should like, even though it’s not catching on.” And I’ve never seen a product category as popular as netbooks that’s been the subject of so much negativity from the companies behind it.”

    LOL! True enough, but “often” is not “always.” I have to agree with others that netbooks ARE being bought on price alone, without regard to their capabilities or limitations, and that IS a legitimate reason to “educate” consumers.

    The first computer I bought didn’t do a darned thing I thought it would do (I think I watched too many Star Trek episodes: “Computer?”). The first computer I SOLD got returned for the same reason (even after my attempts to educate the buyer).

  11. Stryker Says:

    I just posted my comments on the article: Are Netbooks (Finally) Doomed? and I feel those comments fit this article as well.

    Here it is below:

    I have never gotten a netbook yet, but its not because I think they are dying out. I just haven’t had the extra cash (not working atm). About 6 years ago I decided to do away with desktops because I needed something that I could take with me on vacation or to my parents house, so I went with a 17″ HP notebook that was toted as a desktop replacement. And you know what, it was. It did everything my desktop at the time did, but faster. And I could take it with me.

    I’m now on my 2nd laptop (still HP and still 17″) and I am still happy with it. I take it when I go on vacation, or when I know I need it somewhere like in-laws, parents, or roller derby (I’m a ref for the LA Derby Dolls). But I don’t carry it with me everywhere. When I was in college, I didn’t take it because its just too big/heavy to carry all the time. That is when I started to take an interest in netbooks.

    To me, the netbooks fill a niche. They are small enough to just grab and go, something you can’t do with a desktop, and may not want to do with a full size notebook. Sure, some say they don’t need a netbook because they have a iphone or black berry, but you can only do so much on those, and do you really want to do a lot of typing on such a small keypad or stare a small screen for a long time? I know I don’t, and I love my iphone.

    So, once I start working and have some extra cash laying around, I know that I will be picking up a netbook. To me I can carry it with me all the time when I need it. Plus, I ride a Harley and the small size will fit in my bags a lot better than my 17″ notebook; which barely fits in my full size T-Bag that sits on my sissy bar. I want something that I can carry in my smaller bag, or put in my shoulder bag that I sometimes use when I ride.

    So I am with others that agree that the netbooks are not doomed. They, like the new ipads, are not for everyone, but there is a niche marker for them and that will keep them alive for some time.

  12. laptops Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning a lot of on this topic. If doable, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with additional information? it’s extremely helpful on behalf of me.

7 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Dell Ditches Its Big Netbook | Technologizer Says:

    […] system packed an Intel CPU and ran Windows XP (or Ubuntu), but both Intel and Microsoft have decidedly conflicted feelings about netbooks–especially ones with 12-inch […]

  2. HP’s Windows 7 PC Extravaganza | Technologizer Says:

    […] the few on the market with a screen that’s bigger than 10.1 inches. The PC industry may have mixed feelings at best about netbooks, but I know a lot of folks who like them, and the big screen and comfy keyboard on this one […]

  3. The Last 12-Inch Netbook in America | Technologizer Says:

    […] as a fundamentally different sort of device than a notebook is kind of silly, and that it’s a shame the computer industry doesn’t seem to like them much? A netbook is just a notebook that happens to be (1) small and light, (2) designed for relatively […]

  4. Please Sir, May I Have More Memory? | Technologizer Says:

    […] the parts of it who are selling tons of netbooks–have an amazing track record of disparaging the darn things and explaining to consumers why they don’t really want them. But some of the limitations of netbooks are manufactured: Both Intel and Microsoft impose […]

  5. Living With Apple’s 11.6″ MacBook AirNetbook | Netbook Says:

    […] B112 as my main mobile machine. I also have a soft spot for netbooks. I’m willing to make compromises to shed weight-such […]

  6. Netbooks: Not Dead Yet! Says:

    […] and industry types love to predict the demise of netbooks; pundits and industry types keep underestimating their appeal. I’m pleased with my iPad, but if I were required by law to own only one computing device, […]

  7. Surprise! Intel Wants Its Netbook Business Back - Techland - Says:

    […] The chip maker asked retailers to warn consumers about what netbooks can't do, and created the "ultra-thin" category to provide a more powerful — and more expensive — […]