There’s no doubt that netbooks represent the fastest growing segment of the PC industry today. And I expect them to become even bigger over the next few years. 12 months ago, almost nobody knew what a netbook was, but today you can find them in a number of retail stores, order them from most computer makers, and even get them from some wireless phone carriers. When you mention the word “netbook” to your friends, their significantly less likely to give you a blank stare than they were a year ago.

But I’m still a bit skeptical of some of the predictions that analysts and industry insiders are throwing around. Market research firm iSuppli predicts that netbook LCD shipments will quadruple to 47.4 million by 2012. Meanwhile, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says he expects netbook sales to surpass notebook sales eventually.

I’d take both these claims with a grain or two of salt. The former because iSuppli is including 12 inch display panels in its estimates, and the latter because Qualcomm doesn’t make chips for traditional laptops, just cellphones and netbooks.

I’m not saying that netbooks won’t continue to rise toward worldwide dominance. I just think it’s dangerous to make predictions about the netbook/notebook landscape will look like four years from now when netbooks have only been on the market for about a year and a half.

There’s certainly a case to be made for netbooks replacing notebooks. They’re cheap, light, and portable. Laptops were originally designed to be the computer you could take with you when you left the house. They weren’t really meant to replace desktop PCs. But now full sized laptops are so powerful that for many people there’s not much reason to keep a desktop and a laptop in the same household. But they’re still kind of big and heavy and if you’re looking for something you can really just throw in your bag and go, netbooks fit the bill. You can leave your notebook at home… or just replace it with a more powerful, cheaper desktop.

I frequently point out that I wouldn’t really recommend buying a netbook as a primary computer. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary laptop… if you already have a more powerful computer sitting at home. Of course, maybe I’m understimating the number of people who want to run PhotoShop, edit videos, or do other CPU intensive tasks while sitting at Starbucks.

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8 replies on “Industry predictions: Netbook shipments to quadruple, could outsell noteboks”

  1. Mark hit it perfectly. future schools will be based on a hybrid structure of virtual schools and brick and mortar schools. This new school system will be much more efficient than the current model we are using and the netbook(cheap laptop) will be the key

    1. I’m calling BS on “a hybrid structure of virtual schools and brick and mortar schools”- not only will it not be efficient, but distracting. chatting w/ your mates during the class, or watching youtube, while entertaining, does not help to learn. For me the main purpose of education should be stimulating brain to learn new ways of effectively solving new problems. And all you need for that (at least in early education) is pen, paper and a focused mind.

      I wholeheartedly agree that each kid should get access to a computer, internet, etc. I agree schools should, if possible, help equip students w/ cheap & light netbooks. But I believe that kids should mostly use them at home, to do homework, to find interesting materials for class discussion and the like. Last thing we need is a generation of people with ADHD, besause they grew up “multitasking” between making notes, chatting on pidgin, logging in to facebook and (maybe) listening to the teacher.

      Cheerios

  2. I think the netbook will be the single most used tool in educating the citizens of Earth.

    To me Netbook = price point

  3. Netbooks are frequently used today as second computers by current computer owners. What you are failing to account for is how much netbooks might expand the market for computers. Currently, the ratio students to computers in U.S. schools is about 4 to 1. When netbook prices drop below $200 and districts start getting wise to what they can be used for, why shouldn’t every public school students have a netbook they can also use at home? Also, what about the hundreds of millions of people in China, India, Latin America, etc., who have never been able to afford a computer? Netbooks (and nettops) should dramatically expand the computer market

  4. Duck Spotting

    If it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck; its a duck, right? Well, a netbook with a 12″ screen is a netbook as long as it adheres to a weight, case size and price limit; so I can see where the prediction is possible. But I would agree the netbook segment is only a few months old, so such predictions are hasty. Quack Quack..

  5. Photoshop express is already online and video editing is probably available too…
    Netbooks are as powerfull as desktops were only about 5 years ago, so why not make it your primary machine? I did video editing and cpu intensive tasks 5 years ago, didn’t you?

  6. Add the coming ARM based netbooks and the numbers could be right.

    I am thinking a 5″ – 7″ ARM based device in the $150 range with modest specs could be the “do all” gadget. Used for texting, e-mail, lite web browsing (cell phones still stink at this), video, MP3 player, address book, camera, etc. Kind of like the original Palm device, but much more capable. If they target that market the numbers could explode.

    1. One hopes that it’ll come to pass as you outline here. It’d make portable computing an absolute bottom line commodity, and who knows what that’ll do to related technologies and technology infrastructures?

      It’s a great time to be looking at this space from an interested spectator’s position.

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