Lenovo Smartbook prototype

For the past 12 months or so, we’ve heard a lot of talk about mini-laptops running ARM-based processors. These so-called “smartbooks” feature low power ARM processors which means that while they can’t run Windows XP or 7, they can run Linux, last for a very long time on a charge, and some feature integrated 3G connectivity and HD video acceleration features. You also get the ability to receive emails, instant messages, and other data even while the computer is in sleep mode. In other words, they’re like a cross between a smartphone and a netbook, which explains the whole “smartbook” name.

But like I said, we’ve been hearing a lot about them for the last year or so, and haven’t actually seen any hit the streets. But according to ET News, that could all change very soon. The president of ARM Korea says that as many as 20 ARM-based smartbooks could hit the streets in the first quarter of 2010.

Most, but not all of these devices will likely be sold by mobile broadband providers at subsidized prices. That means you may be able to pick up a smartbook for less than $200 up front. Some might even be free. But you’ll probably end up paying up to $60 per month to actually use the 3G wireless capabilities, which means that over the course of a 2 year service contract you could end up paying between $1400 and $1600 for a device that looks like a laptop, but which has a slower processor and won’t run Windows.

Of course, they’ll also get much better battery life than a typical notebook. But I’m still of the opinion that when you hand somebody a device that looks like a laptop, they’ll expect it to function like one. And for most people that means it needs to run Windows.

On the other hand, I think you could make a case that people would love a device that lets them check email, surf the web, and send short messages on the go over a broadband connection, if it didn’t have such a high monthly cost. If the UI looks more like a cellphone than a computer, maybe people would get used to the idea that smartbooks aren’t supposed to do everything that traditional computers do. For instance, they could run Google’s upcoming Chrome Operating system, which is essentially a glorified web browser. And if wireless carriers charged just $10 or $20 a month on top of your existing phone bill instead of $60, I’d be a lot more interested.

So will 2010 be the year of the smartbook? It certainly looks like we’re going to see a whole lot of smart books hit the market soon. But it’s too early to say whether anyone will actually buy them. It seems like the industry is taking the exact opposite approach here than it did with netbooks. In the netbook space, Asus was the only company to launch a low cost 7 inch mini-laptop in late 2007. It was wildly successful, proving that there was demand for this type of product. In 2008, everybody and their kid brother launched a netbook.

In 2010, it looks like we can expect everybody plus that little sibling to put out a smartbook without waiting for anyone to test the waters first. It’s a gamble. But you know, sometimes gambles do pay off. Sometimes.

via Netbook Choice

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27 replies on “Ready or not, 2010 could be the year of the smartbooks”

  1. Everybody gets so wrapped up in “windoze” which is nothing but a cheap and buggy version of Linux which runs every kind of program necessary for the “road warrior” or those who just have to be “always connected.”

  2. Hey guys? The ARM notebooks are already here, in droves. Go to E-bay and search for “7 inch notebook”, you will find hundreds of sub-$100 ARM notebooks (currently running Windows CE) available 7 days a week.

    I honestly assumed everyone knew this stuff, the ARM smartbook hardware is _done_ for the most part.

    1. Those units are pretty weak devices with little memory or storage. The new “smartbooks” cost more but offer much better specs.

  3. The 3G option isn’t really that appealing for me. I can just tether my existing phone via Bluetooth when wireless isn’t available. I want the “always on” that my phone has and RDP/VNC capability in a form factor that wouldn’t be a hassle to carry around.

  4. Smartbooks with ‘pay as you go’ internet connection? If they have cell phones with ‘pay as you go’ minutes; where one buys minutes instead of a contract, I think it would sell very well. Perhaps be ‘rentals’ for vacation places and other places of interest where one might not want to bring a laptop or notebook computer.

    I agree that having $10 or $20 added to ones phone bill would be way more appealling than the $60 that is currently being charged.

  5. Perhaps the strength of Smartbook lies with the OS (be it Linux or Chrome OS) that could be easily customized to personal taste, and run applications similar to what users would see on a full sized system.
    That said, Smartbook will not be very attractive unless it has 3G built-in, or city-wide wi-fi is available (In this case people will probably op for a netbook…) .
    Any competition and innovation is good. Sharp’s NetWalker looks sweet, although I know I don’t need one. 😛

    1. Netbooks used to be dominated by Linux distros and look at the market now.

      As I said I might be wrong but I just don’t see them having enough differentiating value.

      I also think this guy doesn’t know what he is talking about – see BBC article below….

      Technology changes ‘outstrip’ netbooks

      He makes the same old mistake of comparing the price of low end laptops to the newer netbooks and believeing that price is the only differentiator. He then quotes the fact that newer thinner laptops are equal to the job and again misses the fact that these cost a lot more and still don’t have the battery staying power.

      Then he quotes the lack of multimedia capability in Netbooks! This guy sounds like he is just spewing the same old Intel crap. Shame there is no way to directly respond to the article

  6. I hate to repeat myself but… these style devices have been there, done that. The first few generations of the Eee PC are in all intents and purposes, what smartbooks are trying to be. If you get less than 10 inches, you get something for which there is a shrinking market. If you get a smartphone, you would not be picking up a smartbook. A device smaller than 10 inches has a suck keyboard, so it’s a netbook or using your smartphone for quick internet needs. You aren’t going to own a smartphone and a smartbook. Therefore, the smartbook market has essentially come and gone already. Their chance has passed whether you want to admit it or not. The proof is out there. Start shopping for < 10" sized netbooks. Guess what? They don't exist. They suck, and people learned this from the first generation of netbooks. When the 10 and 11" options became available, nobody wanted the < 10" netbooks. Let's be honest, smartbook/netbook, they are computers. People have shown in the past year and half that a < 10" computer sucks. How could you convice me that the recent history is wrong, and the magically people will love the smartbook size computers? Smartbooks are a "has been" computer and they haven't even hit the market yet.

    1. Are smartbooks confirmed to be exclusively less than 10″? My point about mobility was based on their thinness and lack of cpu fans, I didn’t expect them to be less than 10″. This is the basis of most of your argument and it doesn’t seem to be based on a limitation that smartbooks are guaranteed to have.

      And I agree that smartphones are superior if smartbooks are going to be exclusively subsidized with 3g. But nobody enjoys web browsing on smartphones more than netbooks and smartphones are less equipped for productivity in almost every aspect. I don’t support the emphasis on 3g in ‘smart’books, just the battery life benefits.

    2. You’re ignoring that early Eee PCs tried to do that and FAILED. Smartbooks do have the real, this time, potential to be small (not too small though…), cheap and with insanely long battery time (c’mon, logic components use an order of magnitude less energy that even new Atom Pinetrail)

      There’s another usage model, one that doesn’t involve a smartphone – netbook or smartbook + “feature phone” (which can also be used as “modem” for the machine with keyboard)

      1. I am ignoring it? The consensus seemed to be <10" screens are designed for failure, so the early Eee PCs failed for this reason.

        Although from the failures of those early netbooks, there needs to be more internal storage in smartbooks (comparable to netbooks) in order for them to be competitive.

        1. They failed as soon as Windows was strong-armed into the emerging netbook market, and obviously didn’t run well compared to preinstalled and self-installed Linux. People came to think of netbooks as small laptops at that point, when they were in fact designed as compact internet centric devices with limited ability to run desktop software.

          Smartbooks will not have this weakness of being x86 based. There will be no way one software vendor hijacks the market.

  7. Since you can run Ubuntu, Debian (…other Linux distros), Android, and OpenSolaris (in the near future) – you can do everything on smartbooks, I don’t think Windows is neccessary for devices like that.

    1. I completely agree. Windows is only required for legacy software now a days. For the general public, or the netbook audience, the web browser is the central work space and Linux accomplishes this just as well as windows does.

      As for the argument of smartbooks being too similar to netbooks, I see it as more of an evolution. Battery life and mobility are the central idea of netbooks and they may be outclassed by these smartbooks. Those looking for cheap netbooks to use as cheap laptops, the CULV ultraportables are already providing stiff competition at comparable price points.

  8. In my opinion (and I am probably wrong here) there is not enough differentiating value in these smartbooks to make them compelling.

    Checking email, Web surfing, Long battery power, portable, low cost

    These things are available in smartphones and netbooks today and the prices are similar (if not better). I can’t help think that there is more benefit in these for the hardware suppliers bottom line than the users. Soon we will have a different device for every different operation we need to conduct.

  9. I’m ready already! Bring ’em on!

    I don’t understand the hangup with Windows. Why do people care, as long as it works just as well with Linux? (But I’m a Mac user, and former Atari and Amiga user, so what do I know?)

    I don’t want a phone contract, though. That’s a deal breaker for me. I want one that I can buy just like any typical netbook, and use with Wi-Fi.


    They should have been here… Yesterday.
    I use Linux, so I have none of the Windows woes.

Comments are closed.