Research 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?