02 April 2009

Netbooks: Evolution or Revolution?

There was a good article in the NYTimes today on netbooks, the latest incarnation of the subcompact notebook computer. Tiny laptops have been around for years, but the general trend has been that the smaller it is, the more it costs. Netbooks have made a big splash less because they are small than because they are cheap. That's because they use smaller, slower and cheaper CPUs, little memory, small hard drives, etc., and sometimes don't even run Windows. In that past that would have killed sales, however cheap, but anymore the primary application for most computers is simply the internet. At their name implies, netbooks run the internet just fine, and at long last the internet has conquered the technology universe. It is the "killer app" that by itself justifies a hardware purchase.

But the first netbooks were still merely evolutionary. "Thin clients" have been around for years and have long been hailed as the computer of the future. So, pretty cool, but not a new idea. And a $300 computer that cannot do much more than surf the internet is a niche product. It may steal some laptop sales, but cost is still prohibitive.

However, the next generation of netbooks may just be revolutionary. Makers will push the price under $100, at which point cost becomes (at least psychologically) irrelevant. That's less than an iPod Nano. You've just created a new product category.

    Personal computers — and the companies that make their crucial components — are about to go through their biggest upheaval since the rise of the laptop. By the end of the year, consumers are likely to see laptops the size of thin paperback books that can run all day on a single charge and are equipped with touch screens or slide-out keyboards.
    The industry is buzzing this week about these devices at a telecommunications conference in Las Vegas, and consumers will see the first machines on shelves as early as June, probably from the netbook pioneers Acer and Asustek.
    “The era of a perfect Internet computer for $99 is coming this year,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, the chief executive of Nvidia, a maker of PC graphics chips that is trying to adapt to the new technological order. “The primary computer that we know of today is the basic PC, and it’s dying to be reinvented.”
I'm looking forward to Christmas already . . .

No comments: