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Netbooks - the second wave

May 20, 2009 - Dave Hecei
The Netbook invasion started hitting the shores in the later half of 2007. The first successful Netbook was the Asus EEE PC. The EEE PC was very small and very light. Its screen was only 7-inches and weighed just over 2 pounds. Since it used a version of Linux, a free computer operating system, the price was remarkably low, under $300. Even with its small LCD screen and even smaller, to the point of unusable, keyboard, the EEE PC flew off the shelves. The Netbook was born.

Soon other Chinese and Taiwanese computer makers introduced their own version of the Netbook. Soon Acer and MSI had models to compete with the Asus. Soon, most of the Netbooks switched to a low-end version of Windows XP Home, making the Netbook a more natural fit to casual PC users, instead of the computer geek who can live with, and enjoy, Linux.

In 2008 the Netbook started to mature as the LCD screens went to 8.9 and 10.1 inches. Thankfully, the keyboards also grew to a more normal size, even though they still used non-standard layouts, moving some keys to strange locations. It wasn’t long until the big PC makers took note and introduced their own Netbooks. Lenovo, Dell, and HP all have excellent Netbook models. These models have a much nicer feel, more solid, with better fit and finish.

Now we add an economic upheaval that soon becomes worldwide, causing some retailers to close, automakers to look at bankruptcy, and governments having to bail out even the largest, and oldest, of financial institutions. People still needed computers and the Netbook was an inexpensive alternative making them even more popular.

Now that we are well into the first half of 2009, the Netbook is going to go even further. Soon to be announced, the Netbook will be priced under $100. This is going to cause another surge in Netbook popularity. ‘And what will cause this dramatic price drop?’ you may ask. The new generation of Netbooks have built-in cellular data modems. Soon Netbooks will be sold right next to an iPhone, a Blackberry, and the G-1 smart phones.

Cellular providers sell smart phones at a much lower price because they subsidize the cost. While a Blackberry Curve would normally cost you $300, if you sign a 2-year contract you can get this smart phone for under $100. Radio Shack has been selling the Acer Netbook since late last year for under $100 with a 2 year AT&T data plan. In the next month or two, both Verizon and AT&T stores will start selling subsidized Netbooks.

While a Netbook with instant access to the Internet from practically anywhere sounds great, what does this mean to Apple. They have stated for practically the last year that they are not interested in making a Netbook. The Air was Apple’s take on the super light ‘ultra portable’ notebook that had become popular a few years back, but it is under powered and over priced. A MacBook is cheaper, faster, and is only slightly larger. While a cellular networked Netbook is not going to stop MacBook sales, much, it may affect iPhone sales. Not everyone needs a smart phone, but having a small, light, notebook with the Internet at your fingertips would fit in many places: realtors, salesmen/women, adjusters, the list could go on. Instead of fighting with a tiny screen on a phone with no keyboard, you could have a fully functioning laptop.

Luckily, Apple will soon host its annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in the beginning of June. There have been plenty of rumors that Apple will show some sort of new device. This could be just a new iPhone, or it could be some sort of Tablet PC or their take on the Netbook. Most of the rumors state that it will likely not be a true Macintosh but something based on the iPhone’s operating system. This means that it will have access to the tens of thousands of iPhone applications, and probably some written specifically for a larger device.

I don’t think a Netbook would save Apple; they really are not in any trouble. The only thing that could hurt Apple is if they don’t show something at the WWDC show. Expectations are high and if Apple doesn’t show some new type of technology I think it could hurt them in their stock price. If Apple doesn’t show a Netbook like device soon they run the chance of users switching to Windows, something that will sit pretty well with PC Guy.


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Original Asus EEE PC