Netbooks have been one of the only areas of the PC industry to see increased sales over the last year or so. That has a lot to do with their low cost. You may not have noticed, but there’s a global recession going on, and if you’re worried about losing your job, watching your stock portfolio plummet, or tightening your belt for other reasons, a $300 computer might look mighty attractive when you compare it to a larger, fuller featured $1000 PC.
While some analysts have predicted that netbook sales will continue to increase over the next few years, Information Week is running an article that shows you can find analysts who will say anything. This time, they’re suggesting that sales of low cost mini-laptops will drop as the economy begins to recover, which could happen as soon as next year.
That position makes some sense. After all, if the poor economy is one of the reasons that netbooks are doing well, then a better economy could hit netbook sales hard.
But this idea ignores what I think is one of the larger reasons that netbooks have taken off recently. They hit the sweet spot of price, performance, and portability. A few years ago you could find 10 inch laptops that were light and small and which didn’t take up much size in your bag. But they cost $1500 or more, which made them a non-starter for many price conscious shoppers. You could also find stripped down handheld devices running Windows CE, EPOC (the precursor of Symbian) or similar operating systems. But these were also high priced gadgets, and they didn’t provide all the functionality users expected of a computer.
Some people will argue that netbooks don’t offer all the features of a computer either because they have slow processors and small screens and therefore can’t handle some heavy duty tasks like playing video games, editing videos, or performing major tasks in Photoshop or Excel. But what netbooks can do is run Office software, web browsers, media players, and perform 90% of the tasks that most people expect of a computer. And they do it for about $300 to $500.
Sure, some people are going to want larger machines with bigger screens and keyboards and faster processors. But you can already find those for under $500. The reason netbooks have taken off is because they offer many of the same features at an affordable price point. And that’s not going to change next year. What you will probably see though, is a wider range of devices selling for $500 or less, including laptops both large and small. And you’ll also probably see a wider range of high performance machines with 12 inch or smaller screens and higher price tags.