Netbook Screens Continue to Grow as does the Market

Asus Eee PC S121

Asus S121

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on right now and I’m still trying to get my head around it. Netbooks originally offered a new product choice: full laptop features with a 7-inch display. That screen proved to be a bit small for some and also didn’t provide enough room for an efficient keyboard. So netbooks moved up to 8.9-inch displays and higher resolution.  Ten-inch displays quickly followed, which brings you closer to the 12- and 13-inch small notebook segment. But things didn’t stop there, did they?

Late last year, Dell introduced their Dell Inspiron Mini 12 netbook, which offers a 12-inch display and larger keyboard to boot. Asus is the next one on the 12-inch bandwagon, officially announcing their S121. And at CES we saw a “tweener” from HP with the AMD-powered dv2. More to follow on that one because it’s definitely more than netbook and we’ve got a review unit in the works.

While it’s not up to me to define this market, it makes me wonder: how big is too big in terms of a netbook? Manufacturers clearly feel there’s some room in between the standard netbook market and the smallish notebook market, or they wouldn’t be offering 12-inch devices. I have to believe that’s going to be the max, but with Asus churning out new Eee PC models all the time, you never know. You’d think this doesn’t matter, but it does and in more ways than one.

The bigger the screen, the more a large netbook will be compared to small notebook. There are also OS implications as well, since Microsoft doesn’t want XP on devices with screens larger than 10-inches or so. It’s possible that some OEMs have worked out special Windows deals as both the S121 and Mini 12 can be had with XP. The other scenario is that Microsoft is giving up on the whole ULCPC standards which originally limited the specs for a low-cost Windows XP device.

The point is this: I believe that notebook makers are recognizing the shift. That shift is the realization that for a secondary (if not primary, in some cases), a less expensive netbook can handle the vast majority of tasks you need when not chained to a desk. Oh, there’s still a huge market for very capable notebooks. I’m not arguing that point at all. But the days of cramming features and robust CPUs into a notebook are stepping aside for a new type of device. One that is inexpensive and easier to tote around.

We’ve often heard that the netbook market is a subset of the notebook market. I’m beginning to think that it is truly its own market. It’s redefining the traditional notebook market and in some sense, becoming a competitor to it. I’ll be very interested to see what percentage of netbooks make up the entire notebook market at the end of this year. My gut says near 25%. What do you think?

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