ABI Thinks Netbooks Will Win

benq-joybook-lite-u101-netbook-4ABI Research today issued a new report in which it forecasts shipments of netbooks will reach 35 million in 2009, and 139 million in 2013. Back in September, the firm released a report saying it expected 200 million ultramobile devices to be shipped by 2013, so I suppose it now believes most of them will be netbooks. As practice director Kevin Burden puts it:

“In recent years, the industry still expected the smartphones to be more than they turned out to be, and most recently, MIDs were thought to be the next big mobile devices segment, but an unclear usage model continues to confuse the market. So today, netbooks’ time has come, and ABI research expects them to enjoy very strong market growth.”

ABI believes the ultramobile PCs and mobile Internet devices pushed by vendors such as Qualcomm (s QCOM), which feature smaller screens and true cell phone capability, will only account for some 30 percent of the market within four years and that the rest will be netbooks. If so, that’s unfortunate, because netbooks require too much compromise on the part of consumers.

Personally, netbooks don’t feel enough like a computer in terms of keyboard and screen size for when I’m working, and are way too big and heavy to cart around with me. I want a better and more usable cell phone near me at all times, and a powerful laptop for working, both when I’m on the go and at my desk.

ABI Research and others credit the current popularity of netbooks on the devices’ low price tags rather than their features. As Kevin from jkOnTheRun says, not only are they cheap, but they offer good value compared to laptops. Indeed, netbooks provide 80-90 percent of the computing abilities for a fraction of the cost.

But that lowers the bar for mobile computing, so I hope netbooks are just a diversion while we figure out ways to improve performance and data entry so I don’t need to buy a third device. With better user interfaces for smartphones, such as speech, and more data and applications accessible in the cloud, smartphones become a viable competitor for ultraportable computing. I think the industry can address those issues earlier than 2013. I hope they will.