The bloom came off the netbook rose early last year, possibly in anticipation of the iPad and then directly from the wildly popular tablet. Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article in early April:
Netbook shipments to retailers from January through March are expected to grow 33.6% compared with a year ago, to 4.8 million units, IDC says. That’s significantly slower growth than in the first quarter of 2009, when netbook sales leapt 872%, to 3.6 million units. “Everyone tried to make these mini-notebooks out to be a different category, or different type of device,” says IDC analyst Richard Shim. “In fact, people think of them as just another type of PC.”
Falling sales aren’t the only problem dogging netbooks. There’s evidence that demand for netbook components is declining. The Web site DigiTimes reported on Mar. 30 that makers of the liquid-crystal-display panels used in netbooks are cutting production because of declining orders. PC makers including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Dell (DELL), andAcer declined to comment on whether inventories of unsold netbooks are on the rise.
Netbooks have simply run their course. They are under-powered — Tweetdeck absolutely swamps mine especially when I follow something such as the tragic shootings yesterday in Arizona (“Giffords”) or live during a game (“Celtics or Patriots”).
Given a choice, wouldn’t you buy a full netbook? A notebook with a full keyboard, display and more powerful CPU can be had for the same price as a netbook and sometimes for less. I bought a HP Pavilion notebook for $290 in late 2009 and it is superior to the two netbooks I own (the Pavilion retailed for more than $600, but Best Buy discounted because it was an open box and gave me even more off the price because of a problem with another notebook).
Despite the onslaught of Android-based tablets (wither Win7?) at the Consumer Electronics Show whose sales are forecast to tip 50 million this year, companies like Acer still see solid demand for a crop of faster netbooks and is operating on the belief 40 million will be sold this year representing 20 percent of all notebook sales. I wrote a post in early 2009 when netbooks were rising that reported that they comprised a fifth of the notebook sales.
These projections could be off given that price-wise comparing tablets is a bit apples to oranges, but the trend is right: tablets presently average $500-$600, some $100-$300 more than netbooks.
Will the tablet as this year’s darling be next year’s dog? I doubt it. Tablets are a completely new genre of computer whose acceptance has been well-established by the Kindle and iPad. Virtually, the entire market for tablets lies in front of it with plenty of room for downward pricing actions. No doubt, a lot of you not reading books on a tablet will be by 2012. And tablets will relegate many netbooks to surplus electronics status.
The consensus at CES is that there were no iPad killers, by the way, but it’s good to see Apple get some competition.
The netbook’s position was always shaky given it is simply a smaller less powerful version of the notebook PC which is pushing 25 years. In a word, it was a compromise whose only benefit was its size and price for a time.
I jumped on the netbook bandwagon in early 2009, but knew their popularity could not last. I still use mine in the family as a TV companion, not as a companion to a full notebook as many analysts used to say, often repeating the marketing messages of netbook vendor.
Hey, this the tech world. What’s wildly popular today will quickly be forgotten tomorrow.
Follow me on twitter.