Back in January I played around with a couple of netbooks: the Acer Aspire One and the MSI Wind. I soon gave up on both of them due to a combination of poor battery life, small screen size, underpowered CPU and poor controls.
It seems like I may not be alone. According to an article by Jack Schofield in today's Guardian, a few things are happening in the netbook world. It makes for an interesting read. Here's my interpretation:
- Sales were down by 26% quarter on quarter.
Obviously the world economy is in the toilet, but notebook sales were down by 24% for the same period, so the cheaper netbooks did worse than notebooks.
- Netbooks aren't the bargains they once were.
The first netbooks had no or small drives, small amounts of memory and small screens. Today's netbooks are more like notebooks in terms of devices, memory and screen size, all of which mean that the price has crept up. Except that they don't have an optical drive and have a sucky CPU and graphics.
- Linux doesn't cut it on netbooks.
Forcing users to run Windows XP which is a double edged sword for the poor netbook: yes it is familiar and has lots of apps; unfortunately it is familiar and has lots of apps meaning that people want to load it up with their usual apps, which are ill-suited to the netbook's low-powered CPU and smaller screen size.
That last point is actually really interesting. Despite initial attempts to have low-specced hardware run a flavour of Linux on the netbook, shipments split by OS show that it was a big failure. The reason? Compatibility with the main apps and hardware people want to use. Having once been a supporter of Linux on the desktop, I now find myself of the mind that if you want a Unix desktop operating system just get a Mac. Despite vendor-specific incarnations of Linux like HP's Mi UI for Ubuntu or Intel's Moblin, these issues seem unlikely to go away (see today's Wall Street Journal.)
In my particular case here's what I want:
- Something small and light
- "All day" battery life
- High enough resolution screen for me to be able to run Word without the UI chrome eclipsing everything
- Enough storage for my stuff (without having to resort to "the cloud")
- Wi-fi and Bluetooth
- A decent trackpad (the one on the MSI Wind was a joke trackpad with a mind of its own)
- Capable of 720p video playback
Now in its initial incarnation Intel (intentionally?) crippled the Atom by tethering it to an antiquated poorly performing and power hungry chipset. nVidia's Ion chipset promises to remedy these deficiencies. We'll see, but I doubt I'll be jumping back onto the netbook bandwagon anytime soon. Now if Apple come out with the rumoured tablet, that could be interesting and might teach the industry a lesson: if you make something that you want people to use to surf the web and run web-based apps, but make it look like a laptop, people will use it like a laptop. If you make something that doesn't look like a laptop, they won't be tempted to use it like one.