I’ve been saying for ages that I’m not a big fan of the term “netbook,” because it implies that tiny laptops like the Asus Eee PC, MSI Wind, or HP Mini are basically web browsers with keyboards. But the truth is you can use these little machines to watch movies, listen to music, browse photos, create and edit office documents, or do pretty much anything else you could do with a 2-3 year old computer.

Now The Industry Standard is reporting that companies are starting to lean toward calling these computers mini-notebooks or some variation of that name. According to The Industry Standard, the shift is meant to explain that the machines are in fact capable little computers. But I’m not 100% convinced that’s the case. Intel, Microsoft, and mini-laptop makers including Dell and Lenovo have a vested interest in convincing consumers that netbooks aren’t as capable as full computers because they really want people to buy a mini-laptop in addition to a normal full sized laptop, which is something that recent research suggests most people are doing anyway.

Aside from HP, which has been offering premium quality netbooks at premium prices since last April, most companies would probably stand to profit if they could convince even more consumers that netbooks really are just portable web browsing devices. But there’s a factor The Industry Standard didn’t mention: Psion. The company still has the trademark on the term netbook. And even though Psion hasn’t sold a product under that name in years, it has made moves recently to start protecting its trademark. And while I’m sure a major computer maker could afford to fight a long protracted battle in the courts over the issue, it’s probably a lot easier just to use a different name – even if the popular press has sort of already settled on the term netbook.

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8 replies on “What’s in a name? Netbook vs. Mini-Notebook”

  1. “Save the Netbooks” campaign launched to fight impending trademark threat

    The “Save the Netbooks” campaign is fighting the impending trademark threat from Psion Teklogix, who have given until the end of March 2009 to cease using the term citing trademarks relating to a line of products discontinued over 5 years ago.

    For more information visit https://www.savethenetbooks.com/.

    PS Netbook is a portmanteau of Internet and notebook – it has nothing to do with size so if you want another term for your teeny PCs then follow Psion’s advice and call them ultraportables or subnotebooks.

  2. According to Google the term “netbook” was searched for 1.5 million times in January while the term “mini notebook” was searched for 201,000 times. Netbook is the term that has been embedded in consumers minds when they think of a mini notebook. Manufacturers and resellers will have a tough time abandoning the term that the consumers are most often using to reference their products. In my opinion the term is here to stay, at least for any foreseeable future.

    1. If so, I think they could justly label it simply Netbook, with a registered trademark symbol and let the chips fall where they may. I wonder if Intel, et al, have considered getting up a small pile of money and offering them a one-time lump sum for use of the name. I don’t think anybody will be willing to give Psion royalties, and I don’t think Psion will win friends and influence people by taking the name away from everybody else. It’s a sticky wicket.

  3. Many years ago an enthusiast for small computers called them (and his magazine) Picos. Despite this memory, I think that netbook is likely to stick as signifying a computer that is light in weight, cheap, clamshell in design, and has a keyboard.

  4. I have no problem with the term netbook, but if the industry decided it needed to be changed it wouldn’t really bother me. I do think netbooks should be distinguished from small laptops though. Yes they are very capable machines (I like mine just fine), but they are different from the latest and greatest laptops. Limited memory, screen size, usually no optical drive, etc. This is not a bad thing. I like having the proper tool for the job. In a pinch they can do just about anything.

  5. I wonder what variations on “mini-notebook” are being considered. I’ve never cared for the term mini-note because to me “note” first calls to mind music note and seems to go a little far afield of the true meaning. Besides, I think HP probably already owns the term Mini-note. Mini-book, though closer in meaning, is still off the mark. But these terms have always been limited and off the mark, such as “notebook,” which implies use only for notetaking (as elaborated on in detail above by Chad).

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with “netbook”–I’ve picked up a lot of fond associations with the word in the last year or so. I’m bothered more by deliberate advertising hype and editorial guff stating that these things are intended as a child’s first computer and of use only for email, surfing, etc; and this will probably continue regardless of what they’re called.

    I don’t think this is an opportunity for “liliputer” to score with an end run, because today’s kids have probably never heard of Jonathan Swift or Gulliver’s_Travels; and some might think it sounds sort of floral 🙂

    But I can’t think of a reasonable alternative at the moment… maybe “notepad?” (a note_pad is smaller than a note_book… get it? 🙂

    One interesting thing is that we geeks are as passionate about terminology and semantics as we are about our equipment. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are a lot of responses to this subject.

  6. Branding is important. I know the Bard’s lament “What’s in a name?” has been echoed across time – and if I sold a Rose under another name, it would smell just as sweet – but I’m certain I would get most customer’s selling “a dozen roses” than I would “12 Smelly Flowers” or “10 thorny plants with a powerful odor – get 2 free!” Even though all of those terms are accurate, “roses” has brand power. I could even rebrand them as “Chadium Flora” or “Smith Weeds” or “Green Growths by Chad” or something like that – but they still wouldn’t sell as well as Roses.

    The fact is, words have meaning – and that meaning is derived, like it or not, by popular opinion. Gay technically means happy, gleeful, cheerful – but that’s not the popular meaning these days. Cool means lower temperature, hot means higher temperature, suck means to draw in air, lame means unable to walk. But if I said you were cool, you wouldn’t tell me how warm you were – if I said you sucked, even if you were drinking through a straw at the time, you’d get upset. And if you said I was lame, walking around in front of you wouldn’t prove anything.

    My point is – you might be completely technically accurate. Netbooks can do more than surf the net. Obviously. And an iPod can do more than play mp3s – but it’s still an mp3 player. And netbooks have had over a year of press and branding as being “netbooks”.

    Do you use your laptop on your lap? Do you take notes on your notebook? Is it still a desktop even if you put the tower under your desk? The technical interpretation of the name doesn’t mean jack squat. Even if you do take notes on your notebook – is that all it can do? Do you even think about taking notes when you hear the word “notebook”? Of course not. That’s stupid.

    And, if it hasn’t already happened, (I personally believe it has to anyone who has any clue about technology), people will not / do not think “netbooks can only surf the net!”

    Maybe the big boys do want that concept. They want to cash in on the netbook market, without killing their over-priced, over-powered notebook sales. But, especially in this world-wide craptastic economy, people are going to buy what they actually need, not what the big boys tell them they need.

    I don’t know the numbers, maybe you do, but I doubt that HP, Sony, and Dell are the ones leading the sales in the netbook market anyway. It’s folks like Asus, MSI, Acer, and CTL that are selling the most netbooks. And they *want* to sell netbooks.

    Give it a year – if the public still thinks netbooks are just for web surfing, then I’ll agree with you.

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