Touring around the tech web these days makes it readily apparent how big the netbook craze is becoming. Netbooks are notebooks that are slightly smaller than normal and are typically cheaper than $500, although to hear people talk it seems that $400 is the sweet spot for netbook pricing. Most of them are sold with minimal hardware components and some flavor of Linux for the OS. There are models with beefier components and Windows XP installed but those come at a price that some are not willing to pay. So what is driving the netbook craze and why do analysts feels that they will break into the mainstream consumer market where other gadgets have failed? I think to answer that question we have to look no farther than the iPhone.
I talk to a lot of folks outside our little tech geek world, and the tech world is a very small world no matter what we think. Mainstream consumers will be the huge group that fuels the netbook craze make no mistake and in my conversations with regular folks I have seen a big shift in the way they view netbooks. Most folks use a computer at work because they have to and they view it as a necessary evil. Getting it to work when they have problems and dealing with the IT folks leaves them with little desire to jump on a computer at home for fun. I can’t tell you how many folks have told me that they just "don’t use a computer at home".
That began to change this last year when I noticed these conversations begin to change. I started getting asked by a lot of these same folks to recommend a "laptop to use at home". This began to happen more and more frequently and it intrigued me to say the least. I could see a total change in their outlook in regards to having a computer at home. They were no longer viewing a home computer as something they had to have to get by but rather something they could use to get on the Internet. I heard this over and over so I started probing to find out what changed their point of view. It turns out surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, that the iPhone was at the root of the change in the way they viewed home computers.
It was clear these folks were no longer viewing home computers as something they had to have just in case they needed one but rather something they could have fun with. They mention they can use one to "jump on the Internet", do email and get their photos off their camera. When I ask them why their views changed many times I am told that they have not only seen from their iPhone how useful these tasks are but how easy they are too. This changed the computer work from a hassle to one that is fun and easy. They also see how the web is another source of entertainment for them when they are at home. It’s a big shift for these folks in their way of thinking and the iPhone is behind that change.
Until netbooks started to hit the scene they would ask me to recommend a laptop for this home web work and two things kept getting in their way to get one. Price and complexity. The cost of notebook computers, even though they keep dropping, is high enough that the act of getting one becomes a big task for them. They have to comparison shop and get advice from people like me so they get one that will do what they want yet won’t require too much maintenance. When I started showing them netbooks their attitude changed immediately due to the relatively low price. The netbook purchase then became more of an impulse buy like a TV they might see in a store and just pick up. I can’t tell you how many people have said they’d just buy one if they could go into a big box store and pick one up. They aren’t even concerned that these cheap netbooks run Linux rather than Windows, in fact that is a plus in their minds because they don’t want to do "regular" computer work. They see these things as bigger iPhones, bigger screens and keyboards to facilitate surfing the web and doing email. They are ready to walk into a store and buy one but they will want to see one on display first to make sure they can use it. At $300 or so they will simply buy one and take it home to "do email".
I believe we will see massive netbook sales when these start appearing in stores. The low price point will make them an impulse buy and they will fly off the shelves. I also believe that if these started appearing prior to the iPhone that these same folks would not be as open to picking one up to get on the web. The iPhone has changed the playing field for the netbook and the field can only get bigger as time goes on.