Qualcomm Admits It: Apple’s iPad Killed Smartbooks

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If you’ve been holding out and waiting for a smartbook to purchase, you might want to reconsider. At the IQ 2010 event today, Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, explained that the iPad already fills the niche smartbooks were designed to occupy, says Slashgear. While Qualcomm is a chip-maker and not a manufacturer of devices, the company expected to power smartbooks with its Snapdragon chip and even defined what a smartbook was in 2009. At this point, the smartbook term is dead.

I’m not at all surprised by Jacobs’ comments, but I am surprised at how long it took for Qualcomm to admit that Apple stole the spotlight from smartbooks. When the iPad was first announced in January, I immediately saw that Apple had cornered the smartbooks market before such a market even got off the ground for Qualcomm and others, citing these three reasons at the time:

  • Most consumers didn’t know what a smartbook is, yet Apple was ready to provide them one without even using the new device class name. In one fell swoop, it “reinvented” a market that was waiting to get started. The term “smartbook” couldn’t take off if the iPad became a runaway success.
  • All of the smartbooks I’d seen used very similar guts to power the device, but they all used different operating systems: “unfamiliar” to the average mainstream audience. The iPad used the recognizable iPhone operating system which tens of millions of consumers already recognized and used. In June 2009, I’d said this of operating systems on smartbooks: “Linux is definitely capable for this type of device, but for your average consumer to use it on a device, it needs to be slick, intuitive and have a familiar feel to it.”
  • Any smartbooks that would hit the market would be compared to the iPad. If they didn’t offer seamless media sync, intuitive interfaces that people understood and a wide array of software applications out of the box, they wouldn’t compete well.

My thesis back then earned a fair amount of scrutiny, with valid reader comments swirling around the iPad’s lack of USB support, integrated battery, missing multitasking, no camera and useless software keyboard, just to name a few. The fact remains, however, that Apple is selling several million iPads a month, with the latest UBS estimate topping 28 million sold in 2011, according to AppleInsider. The number of smartbooks can’t be measured in terms of how many are sold; it’s a question of how many are even available to be sold? I’ve seen a few prototypes, but don’t see any smartbooks for sale.

Nine months after the iPad introduction –with five months of iPad sales behind us — my thoughts from January still hold true: Apple effectively created a market while others like Qualcomm, HP, Lenovo and others have struggled to overcome limitations that a smartbook would face:

“Apple has just leap-frogged right over those challenges and turned them into the strengths of their latest creation. For the first time that I can remember, Apple hasn’t waited for others to create a market with marginal products and then jump in with latest iWhatever that improves upon the failures of others. Instead, Cupertino leveraged a familiar mobile operating system, created their own silicon to power it and took it upon themselves to lead a market — all while others have futzed about for over a year trying to determine if such a market would even take shape.”

The concept of a smartphone-powered, portable device may not be dead just yet, however; Google’s Chrome devices due out this year will fit most, if not all, of the original smartbook definitions outlined by Qualcomm. I’m betting, however, such devices will be called Chrome netbooks because there just isn’t a market for smartbooks anymore. My colleague, Stacey, is slated to have a firesite chat with Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm at our Mobilize event later this month — perhaps we can gain some additional insights on how Qualcomm views the future of smartbook-like devices and tablets in an iPad world.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d): The State of the Smartbook

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