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Tablets are the netbooks of 2011

Yesterday I reported on remarks about tablets made by Rupert Murdoch. I mentioned that I thought tablets were a fad, and a friend sent me an email and asked why.

Fad isn’t the quite the right word, but I think the hype exceeds reality. I have this feeling that tablets are about to go through the same cycle as netbooks (or ereaders, for that matter).

The original netbook niche (7″ to 9″ screens) is dead. What’s left are actually underpowered laptops (which aren’t terribly different from ones being made before netbooks became hot). What killed off netbooks was the small screen and keyboard. They weren’t all that nice to use, so people went back to laptops.

I think tablets will fail for much the same reason. I don’t think most tablet advocates have really thought through whether a tablet will be pleasant to use. The short of it is that a lot of people will jump into making apps for tablets. Most of the apps will suck and the user experience will be poor. This will cause most users to go back to using something else. We’ve already seen how a poor UE affected netbooks.

Basically I’m expecting the average user to walk up to a tablet display at Best Buy next year, try to use a tablet, and walk away dissatisfied. TBH, that was my experience with an eee701 at Target.

In fact, I’m not even sure tablets will get big enough to warrant a display at Best Buy.ย  If you’ve been following tablet news for the past couple months then you know that both of the splashiest releases (Pandigital and Augen) didn’t go so well. The tablet market has jumped past the high end models and gone straight to the crappy knockoffs. Long before the big name manufacturers can get their tablets out the door, the word tablet will have a negative connotation.

P.S. Laptop Mag reviewed the Augen Gentouch78 yesterday. That’s one of the 2 splashy releases I was talking about.

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Bill August 4, 2010 um 7:55 am

>>Fad isnโ€™t the quite the right word, but I think the hype exceeds reality<<

Absolutely agree, Nate.

Alexander Inglis August 4, 2010 um 8:13 am

Maybe this is about definitions but what I call netbooks are selling very, very well. This is not a "dead" niche.

Screen size typically 9 to 10″ (not 7); Windows XP or Windows 7; 160 to 250 GB hard drive; keyboard sans numberpad at 90% "standard" size; built-in N wifi; blue-tooth; built-in camera and mic; stereo speakers; USB; SDHC; 8 to 14 hr battery life; lightweight (under 1.3 kg) — and under $400 (sometimes quite a bit under) from brand name makers. The latest ones often come with an embedded 3G chip that can deliver 7 mbps wireless "anywhere".

Plus they easily fit in a hotel room safe; and leave room on your airplane tray for a cup of coffee.

Notebooks and laptops, in contrast, typically cost double or more for the added benefit of more screen space, more horsepower and less portability. To get high performance you can easily spend $2000 vs considerably less for a similarly equipped "old fashioned" desktop.

My point is: netbooks fill a market need for full functionality and high portability. The Asus 1005PE-MU27-BU at sells for $335; I think you will find it a huge leap forward since the eee pc model you mentioned.

Tablets, on the other hand, might be a "fad" or not … but they (meaning iPad at the moment) run about twice the price (or more) of a netbook and don’t provide strong input — they are tuned to playback. Lovely and sexy yes, but not a replacement for a netbook or a laptop. The question is whether consumers really want to pay a premium for multimedia with limited input?

2011 could easily change the landscape as the price of Android tablets drives closer to netbooks and capabilities improve. For all the potential business use of tablets, smartphones are getting pretty "smart" and are already part of corporate gear delivering mobile business info. The case for tablets — beyond being cool — still has to be made. The case for netbooks, OTOH, I believe has been successfully made.

Nate the great August 4, 2010 um 8:54 am

My rule of thumb on netbooks are how the specs to my 4 year old laptop. Once they are about the same in screen size, CPU, and RAM they are not netbooks anymore.

How about this as a compromise? The original netbook is dead because it wasn’t very usable. Netbooks as a category survived but they are very different from the original idea.

If you accept that as a premise then consider what it might mean for tablets. After the hype dissipates and the market shakes out, we’re probably going to a bunch of devices with 5″ screens and a handful with 10″. People are going to point to the 5″ devices and call them tablets. I call them PDAs and smartphones because that is the category they will have migrated into.

Trisha January 23, 2011 um 8:44 pm

changed my opinion about Blackberry’s, since their Torch is sold exclusive through AT&T. It appears that AT&T is the dominate for the newest devices, which other cell Carriers have longer anticipation on what smartphone will play second fiddle to a device that can compete with the Big AT&T. However, I have the wisdom to know most users of netbooks and tablet users utilize these more portable devices just for the effectiveness of surfing the net. I believe that the newest tablets are expanding vs the netbooks is that these cell carriers are just competing for the internet usage. Because of WiFI is practically free and netbooks provide WIFI, of course you can purchase those Tablets and IPADs at above the cost of $300.00.

Scott Lewis August 4, 2010 um 1:45 pm

I can’t help but agree with Alexander. One of my company’s vertical software apps that our franchisees run is deployed on hundreds of "netbooks". We’ve seen the market move towards the 9-10″ screen, with almost full size keys, slightly better CPUs (but still a far cry from i3, i5, i7 or even Core 2 Duo), in some cases, 2gb RAM standard, but they still run $250 to $400, have smaller than average screens, flimsy keyboards, 802.11b/g not 802.11n, smaller drives, weaker OSes (XP, although 7 is starting to crop up in droves), and surprisingly decent battery life.

The Dell special of the week 14″ laptops sometimes come REAL CLOSE on price, but some prefer the portability. The hotel safe thing is a bit one, actually.

Of course, Nate, netbooks have changed from the original idea, if by idea you mean slow processors running VIA or Celeron, small screens, small keys, low memory. They are just as underpowered as they ever were, but technology marches on, and $350 today buys you a better netbook than $350 yesterday, just like $800 today buys you a better notebook than $800 yesterday. Or $3500 10+ years ago with no battery. ๐Ÿ™‚

PS: I can’t see why people insist on dismissing the iPad as a fad. It’s trending the same way the iPhone did, and that’s even more impressive than the way the iPod trended. It actually IS what a lot of people want. ๐Ÿ™‚ Android and WebOS will probably hit that market pretty soon (these $200 crappy Android chinese underpowered imports notwithstanding) and it is a different market than netbooks, or notebooks, which is why the price (right in the middle of the two) isn’t a factor. It’s a better experience for reading, listening to music, podcasts, watching movies, playing games, etc, etc than a netbook or notebook would be.

Yes, there are times I use a notebook. Photo editing is one, although there are some nifty apps (Photogene). Document editing is another. I can take notes in a class wiht the iPad (with a bluetooth keyboard), but iWork is not up to snuff as compared to a full featured computer. There are some things where it excels, however. The iPhone points to the future, with Facetime, and iMovie, for example. There’s an iPad app that records audio while providing note taking. As you are taking notes, if you miss something the speaker says, you highlight a note. Later on, while reviewing, it has mapped the recorded time to that highlight, so you can instantly play back what you missed. Sure, they can make that for a netbook too, but it’s the kind of innovation that App developers are making, mostly due to the uniqueness of the form factor, SDK, mindset, etc.

I don’t see netbooks or notebooks as a threat to eReaders, any more than I did phones. I don’t see iPads as a THREAT, per-say, but as a strong competitor. It’s the right form factor for consumption. The big knock on the iPad has been it’s better at consuming than creating. Now some certainly create wonderful things on it, but that’s not an appropriate knock for an eReader site, since the Kindle DX isn’t much for creating either. But that tablet form factor is wonderful for reading.

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