DisplaySearch released new numbers today suggesting that netbook sales may be dipping, iPad sales are doing well, and overall portable PC sales including tablets, ultraportable computers, and other notebooks are doing quite well. The research firm notes that 9 inch and smaller netbooks have all-but disappeared from the market, which should be apparent to pretty much anyone who’s been looking at the space over the last year or two. I’m a bit puzzled by some of the other numbers and predictions though.
For instance, DisplaySearch has put together a chart suggesting that year over year netbook shipments dipped between Q2 ’09 and Q2 ’10, but at the same time, the company expects year over year growth of 23% in the netbook space between 2010 and 2011. This could simply be due to the fact that I’m reading a summary of the report instead of the full report.
But I think one of the more interesting claims DisplaySearch makes is one that we’ve heard plenty of times before — that the Apple iPad is affecting netbook sales.
I don’t know why it is that analysts can’t resist the urge to suggest that netbook (mini-notebook) sales are slipping and that the Apple iPad is entirely to blame. The numbers I’ve seen don’t really seem to support that thesis.
First, of course netbook sales growth is slipping. It’s not a new category anymore, so it’s impossible to maintain the astronomic growth seen during the first year or two. The same thing will eventually happen to the iPad and other tablets.
Second, while netbook sales growth has slowed and iPad sales have been pretty good, so have sales of ultraportable notebooks that aren’t traditionally classified as netbooks. That includes 11.6 inch and 12.1 inch models which aren’t much larger than a netbook and which don’t weigh much more, but which typically have faster processors, larger keyboards, and higher resolution displays. Many of these ultraportables cost between $400 and $700.
Let’s stop and think about that for a second. Netbooks weren’t the first thin and light computers to hit the market. What was revolutionary about the OLPC XO Laptop and Asus Eee PC 701 was that they were some of the first mini-laptops to be cheap, meaning you could pick them up for under $400. A few years ago a 2-3 pound laptop would have cost you $1500 or more.
Now we’re seeing the same thing happen in the 11.6 to 12.1 inch space. These notebooks may be more powerful than netbooks, which helps justify the higher price tags. But similar machines would have easily cost you $1000 or more just a few years ago. We’re seeing the same thing happen to this ultraportable space that we saw happen in the netbook space during 2008 and 2009. That’s a good thing.
Of course, there are still high end 10, 11, and 12 inch notebooks which do cost a lot of money. But for the most part we’re seeing laptop prices fall. And aside from the fact that netbooks aren’t as novel as they once were, that’s as good a reason as any for the slowing growth in the netbook space — netbooks aren’t getting as much attention as they once did because people are buying… larger laptops which fill the niche between netbooks and desktop replacement notebooks.
Sure, they’re buying iPads too, and they may buy other tablets as they become available. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPad is solely responsible for any changes in netbook shipments — even though it’s not entirely clear to me that there is a major change in netbook shipments. While netbook sales growth is certainly slowing, it looks like the number of netbook shipments sold in 2010 will likely surpass the number sold in 2009. Slower growth it still growth.