It’s no secret that chip maker Qualcomm has been working on low power processors for mini-laptops for a while now. The company, which is best known for developing cellphone processors, has been demonstrating netbook prototypes at trade shows since late 2008. Today Qualcomm upped its game by introducing a whole new term: Smartbook. The idea is that Smartbooks look a lot like netbooks, but pack many of the features we’ve come to expect from handheld smartphones.
Smartbooks use the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset which is based on an ARM-based CPU with integrated WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G mobile broadband capabilities. It also has 3D graphics capabilities and the ability to play HD video. So what’s the catch? Windows doesn’t run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset. Windows XP, Vista, and 7 won’t run on it. And neither will OS X. That means that Smartbooks are going to run custom versions of Linux or other operating systems like Windows CE.
And that’s OK if you think of a Smartbook as a mobile companion. You can use it to get online, check your email, watch web video, surf the web, and so on. It’ll do everything that a Smartphone does, but it will have the larger screen and keyboard of a netbook. Because the Snapdragon chipset also uses less power than Intel’s Atom chipset, Smartbooks could also get better battery life than comparably sized netbooks. Qualcomm is banking on the idea that users don’t care about the operating system or the ability to run the desktop apps they’re familiar with from Windows or OS X. They just want to be able to use the internet on a mobile device.
But I’ve long contended that the reason netbooks are popular isn’t just because they’re cheap, small, and light… but because they’re cheap, small, light, and they run the operating systems users expect. I still get questions all the time from people asking how they can install iTunes on netbooks running Linux. While users may be willing to deal with an unusual, but user-friendly interface on their cellphones, give people a device that looks like a computer and I think they’re going to expect it to act like a computer.
On the other hand, this Smartbook idea could seriously catch on with netbook enthusiasts that are already fans of Linux. Smartbooks could feature 1GHz Snapdragon processors, a variety of wireless connectivity options, GPS, HD Video, and 10 to 12 inch screen resolutions up to 1280 x 768 pixels.
Here are a few links with more information about the Smartbook platform: