By the year 2015 we could all fly to work with personal jetpacks, the internet may have been taken down by a global virus, and people will use tin cans and strings to talk to one another across great distances (of 25 feet or less). In other words, I’m always a bit wary when someone makes a prediction about what kind of mobile devices we’ll be using 5 years from now. If someone had tried to make that kind of prediction in 2005, they probably would have missed the rise of smartphones and netbooks and the impending doom of the newspaper industry which could be changing the way we consume news online.

OK, so salt-shaker-in-hand, here’s a prediction about the world in 2015, courtesy of ABI Research. The analysts predict that 163 million smartbooks will ship in that year. A smartbook is a low-powered device with a mobile operating system. According to the ABI definition (and most other definitions I’ve seen), it also features always-connected internet access, although while I typically take this to mean 3G or 4G wireless broadband connections, ABI is willing to throw WiFi devices into the smartbook category.

ABI also suggests that smartbooks don’t have x86 processors, which is largely true today — but I’m not entirely convinced that this is a defining feature. Throw Android on an always-connected 7 to 10 inch netbook with a 12+ hour battery and 3G modem and I think it would serve exactly the same purpose as a device with an ARM-based CPU.

Qualcomm, Freescale, NVIDIA, Texas Instruments, and other chip-makers are pushing the smartbook concept pretty heavily. Lenovo and HP are expected to launch some of the first smartbooks in the US in the next few months. And if you don’t get hung up on the “book” side of things, I suppose you could make the case that iPad is a smartbook without a keyboard.

But here’s the thing about ABI’s prediction: Not a single smartbook has been sold in the US to date. Not if you accept that a smartbook needs a “mobile” operating system rather than a full-blown Windows or Linux desktop operating system and a non x86-based processor. So it seems a bit gutsy to predict that they’ll take over the world in 5 years.

On the other hand, it’s very possible that these tweener devices will fit a need that people have for something in between a mobile phone and a full sized computer. Right now, netbooks are largely filling that niche — but few netbooks come with 3G modems, and the x86-based chips aren’t really great for the always-on, smartphone-like notifications that smartbooks will be able to give you. In other words, close your smartbook to put it into suspend mode and it will still receive emails, instant messages, SMS, and other communictions and alert you with a beep, blinking light, or something else. When you put your Windows laptop to sleep, it doesn’t do much of anything.

But you know what else works like a smartbook? A smartphone.

What do you think? Are people going to snatch up laptop-style devices with smartphone-like features in addition to phones? Instead of smartphones? Or not at all?

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9 replies on “ABI: 163 million Smartbook shipments in 2015”

  1. I just want to have my cake and eat it, too.

    A portable computer…

    … with an ARM SoC (Tegra 2), a convertible tablet touchscreen 12.1″ 1280×800 Pixel Qi display, a 16+ hour battery and always-on standby mode, lightweight ARM-optimized Linux OS variant capable of running most (if not all) Linux apps, full 1080p playback with support for soft subtitle rendering, an HDMI port, some form of WWAN (3G, WiMAX or something) and WLAN radio, a reasonably quick 32GB SSD and a pair or more of USB 3.0 ports (for plugging in external HDDs full of media).

    So yeah. A cross between a PMP, a smartbook, a netbook and a tablet PC, all rolled up into one. Give me that, and I’ll happily pay $800 or more for it.

    1. As long as we’re dreaming. . . I’d like an ARM processor (Tegra 2 sounds great), Pixel Qi display, and Ubuntu in a Macbook Air’s form factor — and preferably lower than the Air’s sticker price!

      1. I don’t think it’s dreaming. I think that something very like that will be on sale in the US by Christmas. The only issue may be the Ubuntu, but that should be able to be hacked in.

  2. As far as I’ve ever known, up until now, the processor not only a defining feature of Smartbooks. . . It’s practically the only defining feature. That’s what a Smartbook is: a netbook with an ARM-based processor instead of X86. Everything else is incidental.

    Of course, I suppose that somebody, somewhere, may have decided to redefine Smartbook. . . I wonder who gets to make decisions like that? It happens so fast sometimes, I have trouble keeping track.

    1. Agree. According to Qualcomm, the people who actually coined the smartbook turn of phrase, a smartbook is just a netbook with a smartphone processor (ARM architecture).

      This talk of mobile OSes is silly. Why would I want to run a phone OS on a laptop? Give me real Linux, rawr.

  3. Depends on what these mobile OS’s are capable of doing. If they are capable of running the basic productivity programs that the vast majority of people are using, then yes desktop OS’s I think will lose their dominant position in everyday computing. They simply carry too much weight, which is dead weight for most users. Specialization is a natural byproduct of evolution…

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