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200M Ultramobile Devices in 5 Years? Really?

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Asus Eee PC
Asus Eee PC

ABI Research put out a report this morning saying by 2013 there will be 200 million ultramobile devices, an emerging class of gadgets that includes netbooks, ultramobile PCs and mobile Internet devices. The report says today there are about 10 million such devices, about 90 percent of which are netbooks. But to say that in five years the tiny web-enabled PCs will reach the same size as today’s worldwide laptop market seems like wishful thinking for the chipmakers hoping to get in on this space.

I can see how it’s easy to come up with a large number shipped in five years. Marketers, chipmakers, device makers and even bloggers are expanding the category by trying to make the myriad devices do too many things. Intel thinks the ultramobile device will be a computer with VoIP. Dell thinks it will be a computer with a cellular data plan subsidized by carriers. Qualcomm thinks it will be a slightly larger phone. You guys doubt the whole category.

That same broad classification — a device that’s bigger than a cell phone and smaller than a laptop — makes it harder to build such computers and market them. After all, who’s the target audience? Some think it’s the developing world, while others imagine college students here toting around “ultramobile devices.” Even ABI Principal Analyst Philip Solis can’t make up his mind as to how this will play out.

“As this market enters its rapid growth phase and starts to evolve, we will see considerable experimentation with different distribution channels: some will sell direct from the manufacturer, some via retail outlets, and some through mobile operators who will subsidize them to encourage new data plan subscriptions.”

Consumers, who buy products to fulfill a defined need, want clarity when they’re paying a few hundred dollars for something. And if markets and manufacturers can’t get their story straight, average consumers won’t buy it — much less 200 million of them.

19 Responses to “200M Ultramobile Devices in 5 Years? Really?”

    • Yes, I saw in another article that ABI said 35 million netbooks in 2009 back in early 2008 when Gartner and IDC were saying only 10 million. Looks like they were dead on. Also right about ARM growing. Look at all the devices with ARM coming – ARM netbooks in tablet form factor from Apple and many companies using Android too now. Dell coming with MIDs. Smartphones now have MID screen sizes instead of the usual 3.5 inches or less. Etc. Etc. Etc.

  1. Stacey Higginbotham

    Anon Mous, touche. However, cars are hardly an emerging market (we know how we want to use them), and carmakers clearly define their products to a specific group of buyers based on those uses. Confusion and too many choices on the mobile computing front will scare away many users, or make it difficult for them to understand why the heck they need such a device.

  2. Anon Mous

    Car manufacturers are have been expanding the car category to make the myriad devices do too many things. Smart has a small compact car, while Lamborghini thinks a car should be beautiful and very fast. Honda thinks cars should be hybrids, while Land Rover thinks a car should have clearance and a large interior. Bently is selling to the developed nations, and Tata Motors is selling to developing nations. Clearly these auto companies need to get their act together.

    Consumers, who buy products to fulfill a defined need, want clarity when they’re paying tens of thousands of dollars for cars. And if markets and car manufacturers can’t get their story straight, average consumers won’t buy cars — much less 50+ million of them.

    How strange does this sound? Does it make sense?

  3. part of the big attraction of the eeepc was price. the newer models have price tags differences that are too high for the added capabilities(more storage and slightly bigger screen).

    if they are a value product priced significantly cheaper than a full blown laptop i think they will sell hundreds of millions. if they become luxury exotic high powered devices they will be less popular.

    the very idea of them being sold subsidized by the cell phone companies just plain stinks. let me by a fat dumb pipe on a USB stick that i attach to my netbook or any other device.

  4. Alright, I have a solution for you.

    Let me build my ultra portable, over powered, uber-universal half-assed iPC or whatnot. Make it modular. Make it Lego blocks sticking together.

    Let me have a CPU unit where I can plug in a screen (17 inch when I am at home, 7 inch when I am on the go, 12 inch when I am at the conference or on the plane), keyboard and storage unit. Let me plug in media unit when I need to burn couple of CDs or DVDs, audio unit for high-quality audio output, external monitor or projector for presentations, beefier video for gaming and throw larger battery with that.

    We have the technology. We have the people. We have demands on the markets. Let’s put it all together.

  5. Why do bloggers try so hard to push these things? If you need a full computer then use a laptop. If you want a tiny screen and reduced feature set then use a WinMo, Treo or even a crappy iphone. Why does there have to be some tiny half-assed device in between? I’ve yet to see anyone actually using one of these and if I did I’d laugh just as hard as I do when I see someone driving one of those miniature smart-car things.

  6. Jesse Kopelman

    I think it is too early to say marketers need to get their act together. Telecom and personal computing are two markets (now converging) that have always been end user driven. IBM had no idea what the PC would turn into. From Compuserve through AOL, nobody predicted the Internet. In 1990, most people were predicting 1 million mobile phones by 2000 — this was off by a factor of 100! Instead of marketing, now is the time to throw out a bunch of products and see what sticks. There is no way of knowing whether you’ve got the next Newton or next iPod without putting it out there. One thing that is clear is that the winners are the oens who can deliver the best overall user experience. Marketers need to be trying to figure out what people want to do with these devices, not figure out how how to convince people they want them — that comes later.