The idea of the Netbook was that it would live off the Web, but the way the vast majority use it now is like a little notebook.
They have OK performance, 60GB or better hard drives, and Wi-Fi. They are, in terms of performance, in line with notebooks of about 2 years ago unless they run the NVIDIA Ion graphics, in which case they can outperform, in some ways, notebooks that are much more current.
But they dont live off the Web; they are small notebooks that, while a great value, dont really address the promise of the Netbook.
What Google and Apple are rumored to be developing, along with ARM, is a real class of Netbook computers. Similar in size to the existing Netbooks, but with less expensive internal parts, a much higher reliance on the network, and an experience that is closer to an iPhone or G1 than to a current notebook computer.
The key gating problem is WAN, and right now 3G, isnt that affordable and Wi-Fi isnt available enough to really make the result work as well as it needs to.
But that is coming.
4G: The Gating Factor
Right now the reason 3G data isnt less expensive is because the networks are saturated.
If you dont have enough of something than lowering the price of that something is stupid and there isnt enough bandwidth for most of the large wireless networks to drive a lower subscription price.
But with the next generations of wireless, bandwidth is supposed to come up sharply. We have been discussing that the inflection point is probably sometime around 2011, when much of the market will have low cost wireless broadband.
Once this occurs the concept of ultra thin, ultra inexpensive, ultra connected true Netbooks becomes vastly more interesting.
Kiss your Non-connected Life Goodbye
Intel and Microsoft are looking at a coming inflection point. Now, both have solutions they can roll to address this, but both will worry a great deal about cannibalization of higher priced offerings. And, Microsoft in particular would need to address this risk much like they did with .NET, as a company, and Bill Gates isnt there to drive this anymore.
Typically every 10 years leaders in technology market change. Both Intel and Microsoft have been unique in that they have held through two cycles. The interesting question will be: do they hold through the third?
Regardless we are going to see some really interesting changes in what we can buy over the next several years and if you thought you were addicted to your Blackberry, wait until you see what is coming. You can kiss your non-connected life goodbye.