Apple CEO Tim Cook says that one day tablets will outsell PCs. He has good reason to think so, because iPads are out-selling Mac computers by 3 to 1. And it appears an awful lot of people got new tablets during the 2011 holidays.

Juniper Research predicts that by 2016, PC makers could ship as many as 178 million ultrabooks in a year. Given the way Intel is pushing the new thin-and-light laptop platform, it seems feasible.

Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook

Meanwhile, Intel Atom sales are down — which suggests that netbook sales are down. While Intel reported $167 million in revenue from Atom chip sales during the most recent quarter, that’s down 57 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

Here’s why I’m grouping these three things together. A few years ago people were making the same kinds of predictions about netbooks that we’re seeing today for tablets and ultrabooks. They weren’t true.

That doesn’t mean that netbooks are dead, dying, or even particularly sleepy. A handful of PC makers are still producing low cost mini-laptops which are light weight, portable, and cheap. I still see a lot of them at coffee shops at trade shows in the US, and from what I hear they’re selling even better in developing markets where the low price makes them a primary computer for many people rather than a secondary computer that you just use when you’re on the go or on the couch.

But netbooks saw phenomenal growth in 2008 and 2009 before taking their place at the low end of the PC spectrum. Then sales leveled off, and now they’re declining as additional products flood the market, including tablets which offer some of the features of netbooks or expensive ultrabooks which offer almost all of the features except for low price, along with much better performance.

I wouldn’t be surprised if something else comes along to supplant ultrabooks and tablets before Tim Cook or Juniper get to see their predictions come true.

I’m not saying tablets or ultrabooks aren’t the future, but I’m kind of tired of the breathless reporting about the hot new thing that ignores the fact that everybody was excited about the last hot new thing until it wasn’t so new anymore and people couldn’t wait to talk about how it’s dead because new product X killed it… even though the trendy old product hasn’t actually gone anywhere.

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9 replies on “Breaking: Trendy new products more exciting than older once-trendy products”

  1.  Brad it’s interesting to discuss. I will say though the tech world is sucky. The coverage is sucky. The reality is as you say, people don’t need to update yearly or even close to yearly. The point is that processors are fast enough. Netbooks, with the next Atom, do most things well enough for most people. Ultrabooks are impressive but who cares? Pay for features that cost you more money but will be obsolete in 3 months? The fact is tech is moving too fast. After more failures, perhaps reality will finally come to rest. Intel wants you to talk about Ultrabooks. They was Tom, Dick and Harry to talk about them. Why? Oh because they are so desirable right? A laptop that sits at home doesn’t need that they have. A laptop that you take out and don’t use at home doesn’t need all that. The industry is half baked. You could be like Sascha and create a new class of smartphones so that there is something new and exciting and cutting edge. All I can say is fail. Tablets will settle into a cheap item thanks to Amazon. People will own them, but there will be no innovation. Those things outdate faster than anything. Right? 2 Android versions a year and yearly Tegra updates. We’re all outdated and need to buy this year to replace last? Not a chance. Reality is coming.

  2. To an extent I agree with you…  Except that this is how marketing works, and the underlying foundation of our consumer culture here in the US.  If you sat down and thought about it, you don’t NEED a netbook, or a tablet, a smartphone, or a computer upgrade…  not really.  At a very high level, no new device is doing anything fundamentally new that your desktop ten or fifteen years ago didn’t do already. It’s just relative performance, form factor, portability, and the relative lack of expense that make these products exciting at all.  But none of that is anything you couldn’t say about any product to come out of the PC industry since the 1980s…  No really.

    The thing is, that human psychology is what it is.  People who have jumped onto any particular bandwagon need to hear how awesome they are because they jumped on.  People who are on the fence need to hear how wonderful it is so they can finally pull the trigger on the decision they’ve been postponing.  All the while product manufacturers need to promote whatever they’re peddling as the next hotness which will scorch the sales universe and lay to waste all that came before to justify to their consumers and share holders alike that they’re making the right decision in supporting that company.   It’s all about drinking the Kool-Aide.

    What’s so astonishing is that for the first time new products like smart phones and tablets really are striking at the fundamental concept of what a computing device is.  Combine that with the culimination of almost two decades of effort to make the Internet not just a information location but the backbone for all your data and connection needs which is available ANYWHERE at pretty much Any time so that we’re finally reaching a almost Science Fiction level of tech that fundamentally strikes at the very definition of what it means to be alive in this modern era (think about it, I’m not just being hyperbolic)…  And we’re talking about perception overload, and the fact that you’re reaching your personal marketing saturation limit.  

    So while on the one hand I get it…  On the other hand you’re a tech journalist and are somewhat responsible for peddling that hype.  As much as Apple and everyone else is distorting reality to help drive their bottom lines, they couldn’t do it if people like you didn’t report it, and if we weren’t all suckers for it, there wouldn’t be enough public interest to fund sites like this one.

    I’m not trying to be harsh.  But this is what happens.  This is what’s been happening for a long long time, and not just in the Tech industry.  The automobile, entertainment, communications, etc are all playing the same game.  At a certain point, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and kick back and enjoy the ride…

    1. True… but I also think it’s important for tech journalists to provide a little perspective once in a while… otherwise we’re not journalists. We’re PR mouthpieces.

      The point of this article (which probably has a better headline than a punch line, because I was kind of tired when I wrote it last night) is that I’m tired of reading the hype about product X killing product Y which it turns out nobody ever really liked much anyway (in retrospect).

      The truth of the matter is most people don’t *need* to buy a new phone, a new laptop, a new tablet, or really any new device every year. The one they bought last year or four years ago might actually suit their needs very well.

      Liliputing has always been focused on low cost ultraportable computing — because while thin and light computers have been around for ages, *cheap* thin and light computers that get decent battery life are still pretty new.

      Netbooks, tablets, smartphones, and some notebooks fit into this category. I’m hoping some ultrabooks make it into the affordable camp soon too. 

      But just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s disposable. Just because this year’s gadget is cooler than last year’s doesn’t mean you have to throw out the old one to buy the new one. It also doesn’t mean that last year’s hot product category doesn’t still appeal to some segment of the population.

      There are still loyal UMPC enthusiasts out there…

      1. I couldn’t agree more.  I think that’s kind of what I was trying to get at as well.  I also can’t agree more about your opinion on cheap vs. disposable, as well as actual needs vs. perceived needs.

        There’s a lot to this topic, because it can devolve into a tale of extremes.  On one side there are people out there that will happily live in a splinter of a dead end past that has been truly bypassed (i.e. there are people who are  developing for the Apple ][ out there still).  Then you have people who just buy products because they’re Hip or Hot, and never do more than scratch the surface of what any particular device can do before moving onto the next.

        Glad to hear you, as a tech journalist, saying journalists should offer perspective, because that’s a rare thing in my perusing of the interwebs.

        For my two cents:  I geek out over hardware, but hardware is increasingly becoming less and less relevant as base capabilities rise.  At the end of the day the true measure of any new device is what it allows you to do that you couldn’t before.  I don’t know how you turn that kind of thing into a story though, especially since so many products are just copies of one another as each manufacturer jumps in with their me to product while they try and stay relevant in a particular space without actually taking risks and innovating, or just another minor spec revision to what has gone before.  All that stuff requires analysis at least to some level, especially for those of us that care about the little things that one product might do right that another doesn’t that would improve our user experience.  But you’re right the A ‘kills’ B thing is on it’s face rather silly and juvenile.

        Going forward the only thing that SHOULD force anyone to upgrade anything, is whether their existing hardware is preventing them from doing something they need/really want to do.  But then that’s been a universal truth for awhile.  Case in point, I’ve actually been looking to go back to my old flip dumb phone ever since getting an iPad because I don’t really NEED a smart phone, it’s just extra expense and the same use case over a worse interface…  That and my smart phone in particular isn’t a really great PHONE for actually talking to people on.  So has the iPad metaphorically killed my smart phone?  There’s an article I’d love to see some tech journal pick up, let me tell you.  That said, I still find myself reading reviews of every new phone because the hardware just fascinates me.

        Going back to your article, I think Tablets have a shot at being something unique and new.  There’s a real chance that laptops may even go the route of the Transformer Prime over time.  Ultrabooks are a marketing term that Intel is using to try and push MacBook Air clones that use their high end processors on people, and I think that in 2-3 years the term will be deader than netbook, but that the design approach Intel is pushing will be almost mainstream throughout the mid to high end while the lower end will still be dominated by glossy plastic and cut rate build quality in the race for the bottom.

        Now that I’ve digressed all over the place I think I’m going to simply post instead of trying to rewrite any of that…  Sorry for the meandering.

        1. Hehe, in case you haven’t noticed, I have a publish-first, think about editing later attitude toward blogging too… so if you feel bad about your comment, I should apologize for my last 8,000 posts. 🙂

          But yeah — this is a topic that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the last few years, but perhaps not very much time writing about.

          One of the main reasons I launched Mobiputing was because I felt like Liliputing was primarily a hardware blog that talked about new products. I wanted a forum to talk about ways to get the most out of the products you’d already purchased. With that in mind, we always covered apps and software at Mobiputing, and almost never delved into phone hardware.

          Unfortunately the site never generated as much traction as I would have liked, and I find myself not spending very much time on Mobiputing these days. That’s part of the reason I ran a poll a while back seeing if Liliputing readers would be more interested in Windows, Linux, and web app news. 

          To one of your other points… up until 2010, I was carrying around a Nokia dumbphone and a Dell Axim Windows Mobile PDA because I couldn’t justify the extra $30 per month for a smartphone with a data plan. But the PDA era has pretty much come and gone (although the iPod touch, Samsung Galaxy Player and a few other devices may actually help keep it alive) and the always-connected, pocketable smartphone pretty much took over. So if you wanted the latest mobile tech you pretty much had to buy a smartphone.

          It’s interesting to hear that you’re thinking you could go back to a dumbphone because the next-gen two-device solution could be a standard phone and an iPad rather than a PDA. 

  3. Microsoft killed netbooks by limiting the hardware spec allowed to run their licences… who wants only 1G of RAM these days? We all know PCs (and Macs) of any sort run better with more resources. Think how much better a 2 gig netbook would run.

    Netbooks were not even new when they arrived on the scene. The price/performance was new compared to mini computers a few years before: they were just like cute little laptops and the public lapped them up with their cheap pricing. I bought two before realising the battery life estimates were nowhere near real world expectations. Perhaps they’ve improved but when you’ve been burnt, twice, you eventually get wary.

    Tablets aren’t a roaring success. iPads are. Check the stories about shipping and selling. Better yet, check out the airport lounge and see if you can spot anything other than an iPad in tablet form. And iPads do live up to their battery life claims. The instant on also made us realise we’d put up with bootup times for way too long.

    iPads created a new territory. They filled the void and hit at the right time and price point. Something others had tried and failed at doing for years. Heavy, thick, expensive Windows tablets never caught the public’s imagination and dollars.

    It’s hard to image what hole is left to fill between phones, iPads, laptops and desktops. Anyone care to think of one? Surely most usage holes are now covered for portability, power and price.

    For a while to come the only progress will be incremental performance, capacity and price improvements. Apple’s ecosystem and massive App Store buy in have secured their advantage over wannabees. The Kindle Fire will drive iPad prices down. Other tablets will keep Apple on their toes.

    iPods killed MP3 players. Remember when every man and his dog in the music/computer business wanted their own MP3 player? Even Sony took a long time to concede they missed the boat even with some excellently designed players.

    And now iPods are on a downward spiral. The market has peaked. Apple knows this. The functionality has moved into other devices – phones. That’s why they didn’t waste resources on upgrading them this year. A new white colour. Wow! Next time may deliver a watered down iPhone 5. There seems little business reason to tinker with iPod form factors.

    For all the rumours, Apple dont even seem that keen to compete with a smaller iPad no matter how tempting some potential users thing this would be. Sure a 7 inch iPad would be more portable but could be that much cheaper for customers? Would it be too hard to type on which would impact on perception? We know they assessed many different form factors before settling on the current one. The fact we have multiple iPod forms though means we should never dismiss Apple deciding on creating a targeted iPad at some stage.

    Apple don’t need to cover all bases with a myriad of confusing configurations. They leave that to others to do to their customers… wasn’t Asus going to cull models once? Can anyone work out whether a 1000x is better or worse than a 1015y versus a 1007z? Someone is missing the view from the customer side of the fence!

    Horrible resistive 7″ Android tablets running a non-optimised touch OS has probably pushed more people to spend more and get a genuine iPad experience. I see people play with these tablets but soon lose interest when they see the lag and general experience.

    1. The amount of RAM only matters if the system doesn’t have enough.  Most ARM devices still have 512MB or less RAM, only the premium models are getting 1GB and even fewer 2GB as it’s overkill for ARM devices running just a mobile OS and running simple mobile apps.

      For netbooks the 1GB of RAM limitation is now primarily because of MS Windows 7 Starter Edition imposes that limit for any system it’s pre-installed on and manufacturers follow it because it helps them reduce pricing. 

      Otherwise, Intel has actually laxed its limitations and the newer Cedar Trail N2800 for example can actually be upgraded up to 4GB, compared to the previous max of 2GB per slot.

      While it remains to be seen whether MS shall impose any limitations with Windows 8 but otherwise we may start seeing more RAM become the default, along with more powerful systems becoming available when AMD finally comes out with its 28nm updates and early next year when 22nm Intel Silvermont provides the first real update to the Intel ATOM since they were first introduced.

      You are correct that tablets are not yet a success and the iPad dominates the market but that in part had to do with the iPad having a head start and competitors mistakenly thinking hardware alone could let them directly compete.

      However, most Android tablets are now capacitive and performance/features is actually exceeding the iPad’s, at least until the next version. 

      While iOS still provides a smoother UI but that’s not because Android isn’t optimized for touch.  Android is a touch optimized OS, it just doesn’t prioritize animation like iOS does but it can be made to work well.

      Apple just has a easier time optimizing because they don’t have to support a wide range of devices.

      While Android is ahead in that it has already included optimizations for tablet usage, which iOS has not yet done. So there are things Android can do better and there are things that iOS does better.

      Neither iOS or Android though provide all the benefits that a desktop OS can provide.  So a lot are awaiting to see how good Windows 8 will be.

      Instant on for example is something that will start become the norm for regular x86 systems and Windows 8 will offer support for many of the power saving features that have previously only been used on ARM devices.  So the dynamics of the market are likely to change as we see more and more improvements finally.

  4. What you say seems true.  Technologies do kill off older technologies – lcd kills CRT displays and televisions.  But form factor is another matter. Will 42″ TVs kill off 25″ TVs?  Will 60″ kill 42″.  Will mini-vans kill off sedans?  Will LCD screens kill off projectors?  It seems unlikely – the different sizes and forms each have their own cost, energy and space requirement tradeoffs, and there is no clearly superior form for all needs. 
    With certain uses, even video game systems and smart tv’s need keyboards.  So it is likely that highly portable computer devices in everal sizes will exist along side less portable ones, and that some of the former will have attached or companion keyboards.  

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