There’s a company in Germany that will tell you Smartbooks have been around for years and will continue to be so — but that company happens to be named Smartbook and it pumps out fairly standard looking notebooks, as well as the occasional tablet. The rest of the tech industry has taken to using the word smartbook to refer to a semi-mythical device with a low power, usually ARM-based processor which can connect to 3G and other mobile broadband networks. Think of a smartbook as a cross between a smartphone and a notebook.
Chip maker Qualcomm first started using the word last year to define the category. But here we are more than 15 months later and there are very few commercial smartbooks available for purchase. The Toshiba AC100 sort of fits the bill, as does the Compaq Airlife 100, but neither of those devices are very widely available. And the Lenovo Skylight which was unveiled in January still hasn’t made it to market.
So what happened? According to Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, tablets happened. While Qualcomm introduced its smartbook concept long before the Apple iPad was officially unveiled, tablets have pretty much filled the niche that smartbooks were aimed at. The Apple iPad, like the perfect smartbook is an always on device with all-day battery life (assuming you consider 10 hours to be all-day battery life).
Of course, there are certainly some folks who would prefer a physical QWERTY keyboard for touch-typing, but odds are these people are picking up netbooks — perhaps with 3G capabilities, or maybe iPads with Bluetooth keyboards.
I don’t know that Qualcomm is busy crying over spilled milk though. Tablets, smartbooks, smartphones… really as long as hardware makers are pumping out devices with ARM-based chips, there’s opportunity for Qualcomm to succeed.