The rise of netbooks was the rise of a new teen idol catapulted to the top of the pop music charts. One day no one had heard of them – the next they were on the tip of everyone’s tongue. No one seemed to know exactly why, and even the companies that made the netbooks seemed surprised at their volcanic popularity. But they weren’t ones to argue, either, and so ASUS, Acer, Dell, and many others were soon producing countless netbook models to take advantage of the momentum. Velocity Micro has its own (terrible) netbook and even Nokia wants to get in on the game.
But now there is a new threat on the horizon – the ultraportable. Armed with an Intel ultra-low voltage processor these products, like the ASUS UL30, are capable of eight hours of battery life but are much, much quicker than a netbook. They also have larger screens and keyboards. Sure, they cost a little more, but many enthusiast reviews are pointing out that they’re a better value overall. You may pay $200 dollars more, but you end up with twice the performance.
Yet I think that rumors of the death of netbooks are greatly over-exaggerated. The problem, really, is that media talking heads seem completely incapable of handling a situation which isn’t black-and-white. Hell, even people at magazines I respect, like Laptop, have wrote articles indicating that netbooks are ready to keel over.
The truth of the matter is that netbooks are not going anywhere. While some ultraportables are inexpensive enough to start occupying territory once held by high-end netbooks, netbooks are going to ground with pricing that is more absurd than ever. Today it is possible to buy the ASUS Eee PC 1001P – a great netbook with over 10 hours of battery life – for under $300 dollars.
$300 dollars, people. Wait a moment and let that sink in. That’s about half the price of the typical ultraportable. It is only a smidgen more than a 16GB iPod Touch. That’s damned cheap, and having owned a netbook for some time I can tell you that a product like this is well worth the money.
Of course, there are some who will scoff at this and saying that even if a netbook is $300 dollars an ultraportable offers a better value proposition overall. They’re more than twice as powerful, have much larger screens, much larger keyboards, and typically more RAM and a bigger hard drive as well. But here is the thing that hardware enthusiasts making value comparisons often forget – PRICE MATTERS.
Consumers don’t walk into a store with the inclination to buy whatever gives them the most value. They walk in with the inclination to buy something which fits a general idea of price and product which they are looking for – and then they’ll buy the best value. A person who has a $300 dollar budget is no more likely to end up with an ultraportable than a person who goes into a grocery store to buy rice is to walk out with a twenty pound lobster.
Besides, most consumers aren’t even going to understand what this whole value proposition is about. Imagine this. Your mother heard about these things called netbooks. They’re small, inexpensive, and seem cool, and she’d like something that lets her surf the web down at the coffee shop and to take with her when she travels. You try to explain to her that no no no she doesn’t want a netbook at all. What she wants is an ultraportable with an Intel CULV processor and a bigger screen and better Intel integrated graphics and a 250GB hard drive. Oh, and by the way mom, it costs twice as much, but it really is a better value.
How do you think that is going to go over?
I think I’ve made myself clear. Ultimately only time will tell how this all works out, but I’m calling it right here, right now. Netbooks are here to stay. They’re not going anywhere. And if in 10 years I’m wrong, well – be sure to bookmark this post so that you’ve got something to yell at me about.