21 Comments

Summary:

Nine months after Apple introduced the iPad, Qualcomm has finally admitted that the smartbook market it envisioned is essentially dead. Amid much criticism, I explained in January how Apple beat everyone to this market and that it simply wouldn’t matter what features iPad was missing.

ipad

If you’ve been holding out and waiting for a smartbook to purchase, you might want to reconsider. At the IQ 2010 event today, Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, explained that the iPad already fills the niche smartbooks were designed to occupy, says Slashgear. While Qualcomm is a chip-maker and not a manufacturer of devices, the company expected to power smartbooks with its Snapdragon chip and even defined what a smartbook was in 2009. At this point, the smartbook term is dead.

I’m not at all surprised by Jacobs’ comments, but I am surprised at how long it took for Qualcomm to admit that Apple stole the spotlight from smartbooks. When the iPad was first announced in January, I immediately saw that Apple had cornered the smartbooks market before such a market even got off the ground for Qualcomm and others, citing these three reasons at the time:

  • Most consumers didn’t know what a smartbook is, yet Apple was ready to provide them one without even using the new device class name. In one fell swoop, it “reinvented” a market that was waiting to get started. The term “smartbook” couldn’t take off if the iPad became a runaway success.
  • All of the smartbooks I’d seen used very similar guts to power the device, but they all used different operating systems: “unfamiliar” to the average mainstream audience. The iPad used the recognizable iPhone operating system which tens of millions of consumers already recognized and used. In June 2009, I’d said this of operating systems on smartbooks: “Linux is definitely capable for this type of device, but for your average consumer to use it on a device, it needs to be slick, intuitive and have a familiar feel to it.”
  • Any smartbooks that would hit the market would be compared to the iPad. If they didn’t offer seamless media sync, intuitive interfaces that people understood and a wide array of software applications out of the box, they wouldn’t compete well.

My thesis back then earned a fair amount of scrutiny, with valid reader comments swirling around the iPad’s lack of USB support, integrated battery, missing multitasking, no camera and useless software keyboard, just to name a few. The fact remains, however, that Apple is selling several million iPads a month, with the latest UBS estimate topping 28 million sold in 2011, according to AppleInsider. The number of smartbooks can’t be measured in terms of how many are sold; it’s a question of how many are even available to be sold? I’ve seen a few prototypes, but don’t see any smartbooks for sale.

Nine months after the iPad introduction –with five months of iPad sales behind us — my thoughts from January still hold true: Apple effectively created a market while others like Qualcomm, HP, Lenovo and others have struggled to overcome limitations that a smartbook would face:

“Apple has just leap-frogged right over those challenges and turned them into the strengths of their latest creation. For the first time that I can remember, Apple hasn’t waited for others to create a market with marginal products and then jump in with latest iWhatever that improves upon the failures of others. Instead, Cupertino leveraged a familiar mobile operating system, created their own silicon to power it and took it upon themselves to lead a market — all while others have futzed about for over a year trying to determine if such a market would even take shape.”

The concept of a smartphone-powered, portable device may not be dead just yet, however; Google’s Chrome devices due out this year will fit most, if not all, of the original smartbook definitions outlined by Qualcomm. I’m betting, however, such devices will be called Chrome netbooks because there just isn’t a market for smartbooks anymore. My colleague, Stacey, is slated to have a firesite chat with Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm at our Mobilize event later this month — perhaps we can gain some additional insights on how Qualcomm views the future of smartbook-like devices and tablets in an iPad world.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d): The State of the Smartbook

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  1. The word smartbook may be dead. But for sure not the ARM Powered laptops. Put a Pixel Qi on an ARM Powered laptop and it will run 50 hours on a small battery, ARM Powered laptops can be manufactured and sold at less than half the price of intel.

    All that needs to happen for ARM Powered laptops to take over 95% of the pc/laptop business is Chrome browser and flash support on ARM, Chrome OS or Chrome inside of Android or Ubuntu. This is happening.

    ARM Cortex A9 also brings fast enough DDR3 RAM support.

    1. The marketing word Smartbook was stupid from the beginning. It would only be in Intel’s favour to differentiate cheaper laptops from the more expensive ones with a marketing term. They need to very simply aim to call these Laptops or Notebooks. There is absolutely no reason Intel or Microsoft should be allowed to own these words. Just put some sticker on the laptop with the words “Snapdragon Powered” or “OMAP4440 Powered” or “Freescale i.MX53 Powered” or whatever other ARM processor is powering the laptop.

  2. With all the Android Slates being
    manufactured by Samsung, LG and the rest.
    Chrome Netbook is also dead.

    Chrome reason for existence was Microsoft Tax.
    Android doesn’t have that plus phone manufactures
    can leverage their knowledge to the slate plus
    they can use iPad killer to promote themselves.
    There is no way Google can have two platforms
    in short span of time. plus GoogleTV.

    1. Google has already announced that Android isn’t ready for Tablet form. The rumor mill is saying the Android 3.0 will support tablets, but I’ve yet to read a public announcement from Google stating so. I dont think Google EVER intended Android to be in tablet form, but it’s open license means anyone can use it in any form they please. Google’s only weapon is disabling the Android Market.

      Chrome was suppose to be the Netbook/Tablet OS. However, Google will probably fix Android in 3.0 or soon there after.

  3. I’m not the biggest Apple fan, and even I have to admit that they just made the rest of the consumer electronics/consumer computing industry look like they were stuck with a thumb up their collective rear ends.

    Sure tablets aren’t new, and tablet Windows PC for professional environments have been around for years, but these were niche, out of reach and expensive products.

    Apple is the first company to take the concept and bring it to the mainstream, Joe/Jane Average market. The iPad is the tablet computer for your 14 year old hanging out at the mall or for your 88 year old Grandmother.

    1. Sure. And now it’s going to get its marketshare stolen by better Android units. Just like the smartphone market.

      Qualcomm do after all refer to a class of device, not a singular device.

      1. Ummm… maybe. And maybe not.

        There’s a big difference between the iPad market and the iPhone market. The AT&T deal gave Android a toehold when the iPhone wasn’t available on the Verizon network. (Or T-Mobile or Sprint, for that matter.)

        But various analysts have already been speculating just how hard Android sales are going to get hit when the iPhone does land on Verizon. Are consumers going to buy iPhone clones… or an iPhone? One recent survey said that 30% of those surveyed would buy an iPhone if and when it comes to Verizon.

        That’s a lot of people who will NOT be buying Androids.

        The iPad has name recognition. It’s cool. It’s available now, for the Christmas buying season. And anyone can buy one.

        That’s giving Apple one heck of a head start.

        BTW, the Zune was considered by some to be a “better” iPod.

        Look how those sales turned out.

      2. It’s interesting to hear that you just assume Android products are better. Sorry but you are wrong. People say Apple is “closed” which really is a matter of perception BS. In fact, I’ve scrapped my Android for the iPhone because of the “closed” nature that Android is cultivating. What is that you ask? Well, there are a few reasons.

        One, carriers are once again controlling features and some applications on the phones running on their network. Apple has prevented that and all their functionality is available on every iPhone sold. The only exceptions are iOS features that are limited due to older hardware restrictions.

        Second, Android devices are now (just like MS did with PCs) coming loaded with crapware – most of which you cannot remove. In essence, Google and the Carriers are dictating which software resides on my device. Software beyond apps core to the OS like the browser or mail. As well, while techies like the perception of “open”, the proliferation of ID theft through apps that are not vetted including spyware, viruses and the like are going to bring Android to its’ knees.

        Finally, try and update your Android OS. (Great for the hackers but for the average user it sucks). Not only do you have to wait for your specific phone manufacturer to ensure compatibility with the OS update but you have to wait for your carrier to add in their crapware functionality and make it available for your specific model phone. That means security updates and OS updates can take months to reach your specific model.

        I’m not even going into detail on how developers need to test on thousands of devices to ensure their software is compatible.

        Fact is, Android is getting frustrating: bloated with crapware; hard to update; proliferation of spyware.

        Say what you will but Android is the Yugo of automobiles while Apple is the Ferrari.

  4. There is still a market for a device with a laptop form factor (that is, a screen and keyboard connected with a hinge), yet running on the ARM architecture.

    98% of work that most people do on a laptop could be done on the ARM architecture… surf web, email, word processing.

    The ARM architecture brings the benefit of much longer battery life, which everyone wants in a laptop. Hence the smartbook.

    The other thing in its favor is software. The mobile software is actually better on ARM… geolocation, 3G networking, touch interface. Yes, the touch interface could work, even on a device with its own keyboard.

    So, I am still hoping there is life in the smartbook market.

  5. @Kevin,

    Respectfully, you’re dead wrong. You’re statements are neither factually correct, nor are they technically correct. When Qualcomm and Freescale first introduced the term “smartbook”, they referred to a class of always on and always connected devices with numerous form factors. This included the tablet form factor. For reference, watch the videos Qualcomm published BEFORE the introduction of the iPad:

    http://www.hellosmartbook.com/index.php

    The videos clearly demo smartbooks in tablet form factors. Additionally, the videos highlight consumption of content and broadband connectivity which we know is synonymous with the ARM architecture. The iPad is simply the FIRST smartbook, not named “smartbook”, but can easily be used as a demo device in any of the videos above.

    If, and only if, you mean to say that ‘Apple’s iPad Killed the Term Smartbooks’, then you’re probably correct. Otherwise your assertions are absurd. The media has embraced “tablets” and “slates” as well as some slight variations as opposed to “smartbooks”. However, ALL that meet the Qualcomm/Freescale definition are still “smartbooks” that don’t meet the bloated Wintel definition of a tablet pc.

    This article is nearly as fundamentally wrong as the article (on GigaOm) last year comparing iPhone to Android sales without accounting for marketing campaign impact.

    You also forgot to mention that Dr. Paul Jacobs noted that the iPad delivers on the promise of smartbooks. At no point have I heard, read, or understood that any consumer electronic manufacturers were obligated to refer to their ARM based devices or brands as “smartbooks”. Again, your assertions simply have no factual or technical substance.

    Sorry for the long post. :-)

    My $.02,

    Curtis

    1. Curtis,

      I think it is your reply that is dead wrong. Even the link you gave proves it: smartbooks are defined there thus: “A smartbook offer the best qualities of both smartphones and laptops in one convenient package, with always-on 3G access, a larger screen and a complete keyboard.”

      There are no smartbooks without keyboards that I can find on the site.

  6. I’m not sure that Paul Jacobs is right about iPads filling the niche that smart books were designed to occupy. Smartbooks, to me (and I suspect to consumers generally) always looked like better-specced, more expensive netbooks. And we already have a name for them: cheap laptops.

    The only connection with iPad is that iPad did what smart books should have done, but didn’t: Create a niche completely separate to laptops, that’s clearly differentiated. Few people will put an iPad next to a laptop when comparison shopping, because they look clearly different. But a smartbook will be compared, and generally found wanting.

  7. NOt sure Apple created this market. Seems to me Apple aimed quite a bit at the netbook market and improving upon that.

    They made it better with a device that is less hassle, has more battery life, better screen, lighter weight, instant on, and more responsive.

    It didn’t improve all areas. Don’t get me wrong. For example, text entry is worse. Price is higher. But for the most part it improved the concept of what a netbook should be.

    And text entry can be cured with a case and a BT keyboard or the keyboard dock.

    Apple, if they want market share, can’t get too “hi-end” for their own good nor can they get too minimalist. It’s going to be tough for them since these things seem to be in their DNA.

  8. Engineers finally worked out the greatest iPad design flaw.

    See http://bit.ly/cbVL3o

  9. Dr. Phil Hendrix Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Kevin, very timely, thoughtful post. I thought I’d share some perspectives we’ll be presenting next month at the iPad and Tablets Conf. (SF, Oct. 6) and publishing in a forthcoming GigaOm Pro report.

    Based on research examining Mobile Internet Devices (including tablets), we’ve identified five keys to success for new mobile devices (especially those creating new device categories). With the iPad, much as it did with the iPod and iPhone, Apple exhibited an uncanny ability to deliver on each these. The five keys and our assessment of Apple and the iPad are:
    > Hitting the sweet spot on the “3 P’s” (price, performance, and portability) – A+
    > Enabling seamless mobility (with instant on, affordable 3G, etc.) – A
    > Creating compelling new user experiences (optimizing the device, especially, for apps for which it’s uniquely well-suited) – A+
    > Cultivating and nurturing the ecosystem – B (there’s room for improvement here, despite the App store)
    > Avoiding product-centric traps (especially positioning vis a vis existing device categories – see p. 3 at the link below) – A-

    I’ve posted a graphic elaborating on these Keys at http://slidesha.re/bMc9Ze, with more discussion to come at the iPad and Tablets Conf.

    We’re also in the midst of completing a significant research study examining consumer demand and preferences for Tablets. The results, to be presented at the iPad and Tablets Conf. next month (http://bit.ly/93D43Z) and published in a GigaOm Pro report mid-Oct., will show (i) which features are “must haves,” (ii) the appeal and demand for various Tablet configurations, (iii) price elasticity and other important insights. We will also be discussing implications for OEMs hoping to capitalize on this phenomenon and emulate the iPad’s success.

    Our conclusion? OEMs had better up their game and deliver with laser-like accuracy – otherwise, Apple will continue to dominate the Tablet market and widen its already formidable lead.

    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

  10. Wow. Do you still have folks harping on the integrated battery? That’s been a non-issue for quite some time now.

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