Whatever happened to smartbooks? Tablets

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.

  • Michaelpaul

    Very well said Brad. The truth of the matter is that Smartbooks are dead. The niche has been filled by Tablets.

    This what happens when manufacturers take their own sweet time launching their products (smartbooks).

    I guess, at the end of the day, the only 2 that will be standing is Windows based netbooks, now that you have the superb dualcore N550 and Android based Tablets (such as the superb Archos)

    Of course, the third category are the Apples.

    But trust me, I think Smartbooks are dead.

    Seriously, when the Archos 101 with a 10 inch screen only weighs about 450g, why should I buy the smartbook that weighs 900g (for example the Toshiba AC100)?

    Long live Tablets.

    • aftermath

      Initially, I created a lengthy comment to add to this article. Then, I figured “what’s the point?” and deleted it. Honestly, it’s a little fatiguing trying to save people from themselves. It’s what I do for a living, and you’d think that I’d be smart enough to just help people who want help. I’m not. Anyhow, you’re comment dragged me back into the water.

      Given that I’ve logged thousands of hours a year over the last 6 years on tablets, your comments about “tablets” just feel weird to me. First of all, these “tablets” aren’t tablets, and I don’t see people using them as tablets. Second, “tablets” are slates, but I don’t see people using their “tablets” as slates either, which makes their expressed value as held held devices absolutely zero. Unfortunately, that’s the ONLY advantage of the slate form factor. Mostly, these “tablets” tend to be used as “laptops without keyboards”, a form factor known as the panel computer, despite the fact that they have less in common with laptops than they do with smartphones. It’s very odd and confusing to me, but I recognize that that’s my problem. I’m never going to accuse people of trying to make sense, and I only have myself to blame if I go looking for evidence to the contrary and can’t find it.

      I believe that people who are exposed to tablets do want tablets, but I don’t believe that anybody really wants a “tablet”. People do want iPads. Mostly, these are either people who like iPhones or want to participate in the Apple brand experience. However, these factors are not tablet things or even “tablet” things. The iPad is a big iPhone. People just aren’t going to want Android “tablets” like they want iPads. Android “tablets” are NOT big iPhones. Android “tablets” don’t hold much appeal to somebody who loves an iPhone and don’t offer any of the Apple brand experience. I can hear the whimpering now “but people who love Android phones…” People are NOT going to be able to love an Android “tablet” for what is. They’re going to be disappointed by it for what it’s not. This is already true of people who love Android. This is why you need psychologically dominating marketing to make an “awesome product”. The last thing you want is for people to love it for what it is. You want them to love it because you said so, and, otherwise, you don’t even want them aware of what it really is. (Actual quote: But the commercial SAID it’s “magic”!!) You don’t want them to be disappointed for what it’s not. You want them to be disappointed because you didn’t tell them it was OK to love it, and, otherwise, you don’t even want them aware of what it is not. (Actual quote: Motion Computing? Never heard of them. They must not make very good tablets. Hahahahaha) Sorry, but Android is NOT being backed with this sophisticated level of “branding”. I know it sounds cynical, but we’re not talking about technology or computing. We’re talking about low-level, mass market, consumer grade devices that exist in response to enthusiasm in the marketplace that hasn’t been supported by underlying consumer activity (i.e. purchases). After all, tablets have been around for year, and “nobody” bought them. Now, suddenly, evebody is going to make one because everybody things that everybody wants one.

      Ironically, I think that the average “tablet” luster would be more satisfied with a smartbook. It’s actually how they tend to use their devices, and despite what comment sections will tell you about how “touchscreen interfaces are so intuitive”, studies in user experience, human interface, and usability have shown that off-screen pointing devices are better and easier. Although, that doesn’t mean that a typical person will agree. I guess that’s whay psychologists like to differentiate between behavior and attitude

      We are truly at a “bell bottom pants” moment in the industry with all of these “tablets”. Laptop Mag comically said that the iPad couldn’t be a fad because it sold so many quantities in just a few months. Last time I checked, it’s really hard to be a fad if you didn’t enjoy a short period of high popularity at first. So whereas its popularity was being trumpeted as if to refute its fad status, it merely setup up the premise that allows it to be eventually true. Will the iPad be a fad? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just don’t want Apple or its customers screwing up technology for the rest of us. Will Android “tablets” be a fad? I think so. It’s been really fun for people who want smartphones and hate to love Microsoft and love to hate Apple have a loving embrace to fall in to. While I have no problem if Android “tablets” catch on and destroy all other segments of computing, I just don’t think it’s happening.

      When I talk to people about “tablets”, they say the same things that my wife and I said about the bench seating that we wanted when we planned our new dining room. As it turned out, as nice as it looked and despite all of the perceived advantages, it was not actually a practical arrangement to use and live with. “Tablets” are the same thing. They have so much appeal, and that’s all. Whether people want to suffer through it is up to them, but I suspect that when real operating systems come out on “tablets” like MeeGo and WebOS, we’ll have a better sense of what the “tablet” is all about, especially if they start appearing on smartbooks, where Android is terrible.

      With laptops/notebooks/netbooks/smartbooks, you just don’t have the same limitations, but you also don’t have the same marketing much lulling you into a daze. I will be sure to tell my new EFIKA MX Smartbook that it’s dead because you said so.

      • Michaelpaulpenang

        Hey man, I really pity your wife. Do you really talk this much?

  • MonkeyKing1969

    I think most of the OEMs tried to push Smartbooks to mobile phone companies, not directly to consumers. The mobile phone companies in turn sat around ‘thinking about’ how to make as much profit as possible instead of putting out the products.

    I think smart books can live, but mobile phone companies need to stop charging so much for 3G and 4G data service. They want their cake, they want to eat it…then they everyone else’s cake and to stick their thumbs in every pie. Greed is making them blind to the fact that they would sell a whole hell of a lot more ‘data plans’ if they made it reasonable to have such plans.

    Also, smart books need to weigh less as someone said. People want a device with all day battery life, but it needs to be something easy to carry. They also want a DAMN keyboard, that truly is a great selling point but the device needs to be less expensive, lighter, and the data plans need to make sense.

  • David M. Fahey

    I have used MAC computers for many years but do not have an iPhone, iPad, or even an iPod. I have no interest in a “tablet” without a physical keyboard. I do word processing and web browsing, period. Probably I have no practical need for a smartbook, but I may have bought one anyway in hopes of finding a justification for my purchase. Sorry that this temptation is unlikely to happen. I do have an old Asus netbook; its 9-hour battery has declined to become a 5-hour battery. Mostly I use the netbook to play with Jolicloud.

  • Zobeid Zuma

    Dammit. . . I still want that ARM-based netbook with Linux. (And a Pixel Qi display would make it irresistible.) The technology exists. Quit holding out on us!

  • Anonymous

    I fear I will never see a decent ARM based netbook. The Toshiba AC100 comes oh-so close. I haven’t written it off yet though.

  • Anonymous

    Toshiba AC100 is really one of the best smart book made in 2010. And I believe that this is much better than Lenovo Skylight smartbook which is run on new lightweight linux OS called skylight.

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