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.

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2 replies on “DisplaySearch: Overall portable PC sales on the upswing”

  1. Brad I appreciate these types of debate posts. I did promise that I wouldn’t bother with the “netbook” definition debate. I’m a man of my word for the most part 😉 I know for someone like youself, who doesn’t like labels, is somewhat stuck. My personal observation is a fragmented and stubborn group of high profile writers and bloggers who are being rigid and somewhat ignorant in my opinion.

    Before you can debate netbooks dying or living or growing, what are we talking about?

    I’m not beating a dead horse, but it seems like a real struggle to get staying power on an essential debate. Again, it seems that the high profile writers out there want to stick there head in the sand and avoid a discussion which could actually lead to something productive.

    I will say this clearly and briefly as I can.

    Times have changed. Netbook = gutless? Thing of the past right? ION + dual core atom 10 inch computer isn’t a netbook now? Netbook = cheap? What if it’s a single core Atom but is 10″ with Premium Win 7, a 7200 RPM hard drive and 2 gigs of ram? Suddenly you won’t be calling that a netbook? Cheap and gutless are a thing of the past. Get over it please.

    Netbook = what then? The new reality is, netbook = portable. I’ve always said that 12 inches and less makes sense. Netbook is more about cosmetics than guts in late 2010 wouldn’t you say? The definition has changed, but the “experts” fail to realize it. Perhaps the manufacturers won’t allow people to use “premium netbook” to describe an expensive laptop that is 12 inches or less.

    With dual core Atom and a new AMD chip on the horizon, please deal with the fact that gutless doesn’t equate to anything anymore. If it does, then you are living in the past. So because they are faster and may have ION, then suddenly we can’t describe it as a netbook because geez, that means gutless.

    Take the lead from Asus. They have a 12″ laptop and guess what? They and many many others call it a…. netbook. Why is that? Ever wonder why that is? Yes labels suck, but in reality, it’s about readers and it’s about clarity. Bring netbooks in 2011 and realize that the classic low power means squat. Netbook in 2011 = portable. The tell tale is what people might ask you about when you are in public with your CULV or light and thin laptop. If you correct them by saying it’s not a netbook, who is the real fool?

    In closing, unfortunately it’s the experts out there spelling the demise of the netbook. See, when they are more powerful, cost a bit more money, and aren’t 10 inches then they are no longer netbooks. Have I got this right? It’s not the consumer killing them off, it’s the shortsighted writers out there killing them off.

    Consider this my final word on the matter. Thanks.

  2. Brad, I may only have an advanced and acclaimed background in mathematics and statistics, but I’m inclined to agree with your distrust of this analysis’s insistence that iPad and netbook sales are catastrophically correlated.

    “DisplaySearch” is an NPD Group Company. Ironically, earlier this week the NPD group also reported that few Americans, only 25%, consume digital media. As summarized by Cnet, “a whopping 75 percent of all U.S. consumers did not connect to or download multimedia content, including games, music, video, or e-books, over the past three months. The majority of consumers who did search for and download such content–15 percent–did so mostly on their PC or Mac as opposed to other types of connected devices.” In other words, connected devices, like the iPad, are still having trouble finding a mass audience, and yet their “taking over”?

    So what do we make of this? Are iPads killing netbooks, even though VERY FEW people even want to do what an iPad does and those who do want to use a different style of device, like a netbook? Are people using iPads for something other than media consumption? Are the few people who are going to use a connected device like an iPad to get at this media simply choosing one over a netbook? Or is something else going on here? I don’t have answers, but I can at least see the obvious questions. Well, they’re obvious if you want to make sense of the numbers and resolve the complexities in the spirit of truth. If on the other hand you have an agenda, you could always just close your eyes and pretend like the future you want to be true is true.

    All the more interesting to me is that fact that a recent Nielsen report revealed that the typical iPad buyer tend to be the younger, less wealthy, and less educated part of the market who purchase tablets,e-readers, smartphones compared to someone like a typical Kindle buyer. I guess it’s not a big surprise that the same kind of person who tends to shop at the mall is also the type of person who buys an iPad considering that’s a normal place to buy one. Even more interesting is that iPad buyers tend to buy male (which isn’t a big surprise to me because males tend to treat technology in much the way as many males tend to mock women for treating clothing and shoes). Nothing I’ve seen about netbook sales indicates that a typical netbook buyer tends to be younger, less wealth, less educated, or male. In fact, netbooks seem to have broad appeal, especially across age, education, and gender, and the collapse of their sales far more closely track the collapse of the economy.

    As long as we’re lumping phenomenological observations as if they were correlated, I’m sure that increasing sales of the iPad are directly responsible for the 1 in 7 Americans that now live in poverty. Clearly, if they hadn’t wasted their money on a silly touchscreen slate, they’d be able to climb out of their lifestyle predicament. Yes, that’s sarcastic, and yes, it’s just as dumb and irresponsible of a statement to make.

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