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Bill Bennett


Netbooks dead, blame tablets

Dell’s decision to stop making netbooks comes as no surprise. The market for tiny, underpowered laptops was under threat from the moment Apple released its first iPad.

I doubt it will take long for other brands to drop them.

Pioneering portability

Netbooks had two things going for them when they first appeared. They were portable – far easier to carry around than conventional laptops. And they were cheap. Some also had great battery life at a time when laptops struggled to last for two hours without a recharge.

Tablets like the iPad do portable and battery life better. The good ones, like the iPad, are more expensive, the extra price is easily justified and not beyond most people in rich countries like New Zealand.

Netbooks a necessary step

It would be easy to sneer at netbooks. They were a necessary step in computer evolution.

Netbooks proved there was a place for stripped down computers with limited functionality. They showed portability and great battery life were possible and demonstration what a difference these two features could make. They also showed computer makers there was a market. In many ways they prepared the ground for tablets.

Lightweight software

They spurred software development. The first models ran Linux and lightweight applications for word processing and other tasks. This put pressure on Microsoft and others to cut operating system and application bloat. Smaller, lighter apps arrived. All of these were good developments.

Netbooks opened the door for personal cloud computing. Google apps and similar first became popular on those tiny machines too feeble to run Microsoft Office. And that put pressure on Microsoft to improve the apps.



3 thoughts on “Netbooks dead, blame tablets

  1. NetBooks started off very small and cheap but the EeePC range, for example, pretty quickly moved to larger and more expensive machines, even more expensive than the base model iPad.

    A real keyboard is an advantage, but then their keyboards are not much better to use than a virtual onscreen keyboard, unlike those on Ultrabooks (or at least the MacBook Air). And the screens are small and low quality and have few pixels, and they often don’t have enough horsepower to run youtube properly — one of the critical use cases for many people.

  2. @Bruce – That’s right. I see it as twist on the old ‘feature creep’ theme. For me the day netbooks died was when computer makers started shoehorning Windows XP or Vista into a device which simply couldn’t cope with the OS, let alone full-blown apps.

    And yes, they have atrocious graphics. That’s not an issue for lo-fi work with Google Docs or the like, but people wanted to drive netbooks like real PCs.

    I avoided netbooks altogether and picked up a low-cost CULV, which has a better screen and full Pentium grunt in a small package with a so-so keyboard. The main downside is when people see me use it, they think it’s a netbook. This makes it hard to get respect 🙂

  3. Interesting, I have a Dell Mini that I turned in to a Hackintosh partly as an experiment and largely as a labour of love. It is certainly not a trivial task to get everything working properly, every single time there is an OS update.

    I actually currently have no interest in owning a tablet, (although of course I wouldnt turn a free one down) but it is because I am largely a content creator, rather than a content consumer.
    I want to run standard programs for software and database development in addition to emailing, checking the weather etc and a tablet just doesn’t come close to fitting the niche that I use it for – a fully functioning ultra portable computer with good battery life.

    It is certainly no replacement for my Macbook Pro, but in a pinch I can do those last minute and unexpected tasks clients have a habit of asking when I least expect when I am out on the road.

    RIP netbooks, and I expect that soon the walled garden of apps will improve to the point where I can easily perform the tasks that currently I find annoying to do on a tablet.

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