Netbooks: Moving in Right Next Door to Useless

    July 17, 2009

Netbooks are apparently surging in popularity.  Some of the more recent data suggests that some 30 million netbooks will be sold this year.  That’s a fair amount of hardware.  Clearly, people are hot for netbooks. I just don’t see why.

Are you interested in buying a netbook?  Share why or why not in the comments.

Netbooks are... well, small.Netbooks are like like a regular laptop except they are smaller. Kind of like the iPhone or one of the 20 Android phones coming out. They aren’t as powerful as a regular laptop, but you can do basic web surfing, texting and Twittering. Kind of like iPhones or one of the 20 Android phones coming out. They are a smaller form factor and easier to lug around than a full fledged laptop. Also kind of like the iPhone or one of the 20 Android phones coming out.

So, what the heck is a netbook? Is it a phone with a bigger screen or a laptop with a little brain? Either way, is there a real reason why I am supposed to want to drag yet another gadget around with me everywhere? What am I missing here?  Where’s the draw?  I can check my email on my phone. I web surf on my phone. I can update Twitter, catch up on sports scores and read articles all just fine on my phone — and my phone sucks (I am upgrading soon). What do I need a netbook for?

More to the point, what does ANYbody need a netbook for? Today’s phones do a pretty good job with the web.  Over the next 2 or 3 years, assuming technology progresses like it always has, they will get even better. I guess I just need somebody to explain to me the netbook’s ‘niche’ here because to this point, I see no ‘need’ for their existence whatsoever.

Hardware and service providers are definitely on board.  Most telecom providers have announced or already launched some sort of subsidized netbook program. Your telecom providers love subsidy programs.  They typically involve lengthy contract extensions. Maybe there’s more to it here… I just don’t see it.

Google has even announced a new Netbook oriented open source OS. MS has invaded Google’s search turf with Bing.  So, it’s only natural for Google to want to fire a shot across Microsoft’s bow and announce an open source OS for netbooks.  Of course, this new open source OS isn’t due until late next year which is pretty ‘forward looking’ even for Google. 

I’m not saying anything, but some people might think this announcement had as much to do with Bing’s impressive (early) numbers than anything else. I don’t think Google really believes they are going to be snatching much of Microsoft’s OS business with this thing for netbooks, but it probably gives the hardware vendors the semblance of some bargaining chip with Redmond for a price break. I hope that isn’t the rationale for the 10 month advance notice for the Chrome OS though, because that just sounds desperate.

But back to the actual gadgets. Somebody explain to me how these things aren’t the the epitome of a useless ‘tweener’ device.  Not quite a laptop, not quite a phone but still apparently considered desirable by some 30 million people. Basically so they can do stuff they were already doing with their phones and laptops. 

Do you think a netbook is a ‘needful’ thing or just a redundant gadget? 
Weigh in in the comments.

I have used these things a little bit too, so telling me how the screens are bigger and the keyboards are nicer is only going to get you so far. We have one of these things floating around the office. The Sony P-Series even, one of the best you can buy. It’s not even a ‘real’ netbook because it has laptop-ish specs. Guess what? The screen is still too small and it’s sitting here somewhere collecting dust. Why? Even though it would be easy to carry around if you needed to, nobody needs to carry it around.