Notebooks vs. Netbooks: Can You Tell the Difference?

Netbooks, as they were originally envisioned, may already be a dying breed. It’s all thanks to the PC industry, which, instead of innovating on what seemed like a promising form factor, has turned it into the all-too familiar notebook, except cheaper. The problem with PC makers is that they’re not terribly creative; they typically don’t invest a lot of money on innovation. And why should they? After all, they’re no different than makers of household detergents, earning pennies on the dollars. So they do one of three things:

  • 1. Try to copy Apple (which is a good thing).
  • 2. Try to copy each other (which is not a good thing).
  • 3. Take design cues from either Intel or Microsoft (which is a certifiably bad idea).
  • So when Asus came up with a tiny netbook called EeePC, all the other PC makers followed suit. But since they couldn’t really distinguish themselves by either design, price or software, they — notably Samsung and Hewlett Packard — did the next best thing: started competing with each other on “features,” among them bigger screens, bigger keyboards, bigger hard drives and better graphics. In other words, they moved away from the very reasons the EeePC became a hit in the first place.

    A few months ago, after talking to Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, I wrote a post in which I argued that netbooks were nothing but cheap laptops that would eventually pull the PC industry into a self-imposed death spiral. Many disagreed with my argument, pointing out key differences between the two devices such as memory upgrade capability and screen size.

    There are, however, some new developments that make my thesis about the non-existent differences between netbooks and notebooks even stronger:

    • Samsung is offering a memory upgrade (2GB) to its N310 netbook that costs $479. Microsoft doesn’t allow companies to sell netbooks with the Windows XP home edition with more than 1 GB memory, so this is Samsung’s way of getting around that restriction.
    • ASUS is readying a 12-inch version of the EeePC. It has the innards of a netbook but with more memory, better display and Windows 7. I can’t tell if this is a netbook or a notebook. Go figure.
    • Nokia is releasing its Nokia Booklet 3G, yet another product that’s going to cause further market confusion. (Gizmodo review)

    Sebastian was right when he said Windows 7 was ushering in an era of profitless prosperity. We are seeing the end of the netbook as we (briefly) knew it.

    Photo courtesy of Liliputting.