netbook-cellphoneMost netbooks today are nothing but tiny computers. They have similar displays, keyboards, and components including CPUs, RAM, and hard drives or solid state storage. And most netbooks powered by Intel or VIA chips are capable of running Windows, Linux, or in some cases OS X.

But a growing number of netbook makers are considering ARM-based processors, which use less power. That helps prolong battery life while offering decent, if not stellar performance. Microsoft and Apple don’t currently support ARM-based chips for their desktop operating systems, which means that any netbooks built around these processors are most likely going to run an operating system like Linux, Windows CE, or Google Android. And you know what else runs those operating systems? Cellphones.

EETimes makes the case that the gap between netbooks and smartphones is shrinking. And while netbooks visually look more like full sized laptops than they do like mobile phones, you can certainly argue that they have more in common with phones. Netbooks are small, light, low power, and are capable of connecting to the internet (or even making voice or video calls using VoIP software). And the price difference between the two devices are becoming smaller. In fact, we’re seeing a growing number of mobile broadband providers subsidize the cost of netbooks much the way they do with cellphones. Sign up for a 2 year sevice plan, (which you might have been ready to pay for anyway), and you can get a mini-laptop cheap or free.

What do you think, are netbooks becoming cellphones? Or do you like your min-notebook with a little more processing power and the ability to run desktop computer apps?

via GigaOm

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22 replies on “Either netbooks are getting more like cellphones, or vice versa”

  1. All these ideas about converged and paired devices sound great and some will no doubt succeed, but the main appeal of the netbook is its single unit clamshell design. You can just throw it in your bag and go, then pull out that one item and use it on your lap, etc, without worry about balancing dangling (or blue tooth) keyboards, mice, or other ancillaries, unless you have to tether a modem :).

  2. I wish, I wish.

    There was, or is, a company called Riscos
    that worked on a version of the excellent RISC Operating System by Acorn, modified for use on Netbooks with an ARM processor. They had as target the Psion Netbook; the OS was called RON (work it out!).

    The RON/Netbook combination had, and still has, the potential of piggybacking on the wide range of software developed for the Acorn RISC computer, which was brilliant in its time and is still something I hanker for.

    If only …………………..

    – I still have some software spirited away ……………

  3. What I see is simple. Smartphones can benefit more from netbook technology than netbooks can benefit from using ARM processors. They will always be divergent. Running a full desktop OS like a customized Linux beyond the current capabilities of Android will make smartphones infinitely more powerful. And that is where I think things will go. Netbooks don’t need to be any LESS powerful or any larger. I feel the formula is right and that eventually their processors and abilities will catch up to their size such that there will be fewer differences between full desktops and netbooks. The netbook will become THE book, the laptop, the main computer. It will be able to do everything a laptop or desktop can do, just smaller and cheaper. And smartphones too. That s the dream. That will be the reality.

  4. I think all types of gadgets should benefit from each other. Say, you can build a GSM/GPRS device into a portable laptop, or you can augment a cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard. But manufacturers should be always reasonable about what they are trying to do. You can stuff a cellphone with a fully charged tauzand megahurtz processor but you shouldn’t complain if it dies after 5 minutes of usage. You can also enable GSM calls on netbook but it’d be strange to expect people wandering around carrying lappies at their ears with a hand (though, thinking of Vaio P…).

    I think every gadget should occupy its market and consumer niche. You would never expect a professional photographer to consider your cameraphone as an alternative to his main cam. But you should enable cam in the phone if it won’t make it too expensive so that people could take pictures of ads, links in periodic press, their credit card numbers or stuff they want to share right now. You should also let cellphone connect to the internet and browse normal web sites so that people could do that not on a regular basis but in case of emergency.

    With the rise of netbooks with their compactness, lightweight and satisfactory performance nobody would expect normal laptops to die out. They also have their consumers.

    I wouldn’t expect smart phones and netbooks to merge someday soon. More likely all cellphones would become smartphones or PDA-likes in the close future. And maybe with the development of cloud computing desktops would become smaller and less power-hungry.

  5. Have you seen the modu phone (
    I think a combination of a modu and a NetBook could be the answer to the phone/portable computer solution. Going out clubbing, jogging, riding etc. but don’t want to carry a small computer with you? Simply undock the modu from the NetBook and away you go. Then when you want to go to the park and chill out while working on your blog, just slip the modu back into the Netbook and you have 3G wireless internet as well as being able to make and take calls.
    Ticks all the boxes if you ask me.

  6. From a technology point of view, cellphones and netbooks have little boundary between them. The ARM vs. x86 processor platform battle is no more than the Intel vs. AMD battle. Linux happily spans either hardware platforms almost seamlessly so the differentiation almost comes down to semantics.

    I think the convergence of mobile phones and netbooks is more about HOW one uses the device. A mobile phone is a device one can quickly access information — e-mail, mobile browser, SMS, etc. A netbook / UMPC / mini-notebook is a device one would use in a more involved task — write a report, create a spreadsheet, touchup a photo, edit a home video, etc. Certainly the screen size, keyboard type, battery life, amount of RAM, and other seemingly differentiating factors will all enter into the equation of HOW one uses the device.

  7. My vision of the perfect device:
    Very thin screen+reyboard (no CPU or anything inside) with ports to connect.
    Small phone-style screen+”keyboard”.
    CPU block vith very small built-in SSD storage, SSD/HDD storage block, battery block (big and small).
    Ability to easily combine these components like nowadays we can attach foldable keyboard to PDA.

  8. Why don’t they just make them cell phones and get it over with. Bluetooth headsets make it a phone also.

    1. Technically, no reason. However, by going down the route they’ve taken, the mobile telcos can charge us twice for essentially the same thing by selling two contracts when one should be perfectly adequate.

      Exactly the same reason why we need 3G dongles etc when we could just use Bluetooth with our existing phone. Yes, I know that is possible in many cases, but almost universally against terms and conditions of contract, and if caught out, you could be charged exorbitantly.

        1. Not just US, being in the UK (and telcos being evil global tentacle beast now anyway)

  9. There’s a similar device to what you are trying to mention, and it’s called Pandora. Well, the screen may be a bit small (4.3″) but it has a pretty fast ARM processor (the almighty Cortex), a monster graphic card and dedicated gaming controls, which is in short my dreams device. I dislike the laptop-netbook separation, they are too similar (for the actual 9-12″/cheap/low powered ones). I think the real concept of netbooks is in the 5/7″ ARM ones that monopole mentioned. For me, the 1000H, the Acer Aspire One and the HP 1000 are just regular laptops, just with small screen and form factor, low price tags and power saving hardware. Not too much difference for a new type of device. Something with 5-7″ screen which is small enough to fit in your hands would be a netbook since it has different consumer target.

  10. Once the battery run times get to above 15 hours of use per charge (ARM and Pixel Qi screens)… then, it is hard to NOT image that a blue tooth ear/mic piece, talking thru your netbook (that is on in standby mode, yet still able to operate like a cell phone and in that mode RUN FOR DAYS as a cell phone device). Instant ON, get your text, and if they use the Pixel Qi (OLPC XO-1 power savings tech with the CPU off when you are typing using NO or very little power), well… that will be all you need (in Netbook format, or MID format, or UMPC format, whatever pocketable size that you want, and whatever keyboard that you want.

  11. Add a small screen and keypad to the lid of a 7″ ARM based netbook with bluetooth and pair it with a bluetooth headset and you can leave your smartphone at home.

  12. I see the netbook diverging into two branches, 10-12″ ultra light subnotebooks with enough performance to have reasonable offline performance and 5-7″ ARM or MIPS based units good enough for web access, media playback, and basic editing. In essence comparable performance to a Nokia N800 or N810 with a bigger screen, keyboard and battery and dirt cheap (~$100). These latter units will become more common than cellphones in that many people will have several.

    1. now your overlooking the omap3 and other cortex based cpus (and equivalents). they have the horsepower to match atom on most tasks, and use no more then current ARM based cpus.

      even more so as ARM is working on multi-core designs…

      there is nothing that says that a ARM cpu cant power a 10-12″ device…

  13. I like netbooks at least as powerful as they are now, if not more. If they become less powerful and more like cell phones… well, it defeats the purpose of mobile computing (at least in my opinion). I’m saying this as someone who uses netbooks from the business end of things. I need a semi-powerful mobile computer that will be able to carry out the necessary programs/tasks that I use…….at an affordable price, no less. =)

    1. thing is that as intel slows down x86 to make it more energy efficient, ARM speeds their stuff up without impacting power use.

      so at some point one will hit a sweet spot where the cpu will not be the issue, but more what software is available to the user (and what the user is familiar with or wants to learn to use).

      i would say that what have kept x86 in use this whole time is that microsoft never bothered with either a transparent emulation layer or “fat binaries” like what apple pulled when they jumped to x86.

  14. Remember all the complaints about the small displays and keyboards of the first netbooks? Will smartphones make us want even smaller displays and keyboards (or equivalent)?

    1. heh, some wont allow me to forget.

      i ended up in a debate with one that claimed that 12″ and 1280 resolution was what should have been the minimum requirements for a netbook…

      me, i would not be surprised if netbooks turn into something like the celio redfly. basically a larger keyboard and display that one can hook up to the multi-core ARM cortex powered smartphone as needed.

      maybe one will see places like starbucks and libraries provide users with systems like that. iirc, celio was working on a desktop style version of their redfly, so that one could connect normal keyboard and display to a small box, that would then connect to the phone.

      bring your data with you on your phone, use whatever interface you have available where you are at the time. i swear i have been mentally toying with that idea for some time…

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