What's Next for the Netbook Market?

JDD090910-mobilize-D71_3072While smartphone sales have proliferated, netbooks are a burgeoning market that was put in the spotlight when Google (s goog) announced its Chrome OS this summer. Though netbooks aren’t a new player in the tech space, it’s undeniable that consumers’ interest in these devices is rising — but why now? Sure, netbooks are cheap, which is a positive, given the struggling economy, as Mark Spoonauer, editor in chief at LAPTOP Magazine, noted today during a panel at our Mobilize conference. But netbooks also bring together the portability and wireless connectivity that consumers are craving, each of the panelists agreed. While smartphones are a quick fix for information gathering, netbooks are designed for people who want to do more than three minutes of web browsing, said Brian Pitstick, GM of Ultra Mobile Devices at Dell (s dell).

As the netbook market expands, service providers have the chance to step up and capitalize on the opportunity to support web connectivity on netbooks, according to Keith Kressin, senior director of marketing and product management for Qualcomm (s qcom). This would be particularly beneficial in emerging markets, where netbook demand is expected to grow rapidly, according to Anil Nanduri, Intel’s (s intc) director of Netbook Marketing. Carriers that are taking advantage of the netbook market include AT&T (s n) and Verizon (s vzn), which are currently selling netbooks at discounts but charge consumers $60 a month for unlimited capped data.

The next step for netbooks is to integrate multi-touch screens into the hardware, which presents a stumbling block for companies, as that will likely increase prices. “If you want to drive mass adoption, that price point has to come down,” said Dell’s Pitstick, noting that customers won’t be keen to purchase a $2,000 multi-touch tablet. Though nothing was said yesterday at the Apple (s appl) news event about its rumored tablet, the panelists shifted in their seats when one audience member asked them about it. Pitstick said that the netbook space has room for “various vendors,” while Kressin noted that innovation in the space is always a good thing.