Is the Netbook Dead? Ha! It Never Existed!: Page 2

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The chips will have built-in mobile broadband and Wi-Fi support, as well as extras like GPS and HD video support. That makes the devices smaller, lighter and cheaper because all that electronics is baked right into the chip itself.

Smartbooks will start out with 9- and 10-inch screens, like the initial wave of netbooks did. However, instead of big-computer operating systems crammed into smaller screens, smartbooks will have smaller-device OSes displayed on bigger screens (bigger than the cell phone screens they were initially designed for). These include Google's Android, as well as Windows CE, Linux and others.

In other words, the trend is for small laptops that stand somewhere between PCs and cell phones to shift from PC OSes and chipsets to cell phone OSes and chipsets. The payoff for consumers is better battery life (how does 10 hours grab you?), lower price and user interfaces and applications designed for mobility and constant connectivity (like cell phones are).

Taiwan-based Digitimes reports that a wide range of ARM- and Android-based smartbooks are being ordered, prepped and manufactured for shipment in the 4th quarter of this year. (I think summer next year is more likely for the majority of these devices.)

They'll come from several little-known Asian companies (just like ASUS was largely unknown to consumers in 2007) such as Inventec, and also bigger names, including Acer. Eventually, I suspect, all the major netbook makers, including HP and Dell, will get into the smartbook racket as well.

The important point here is that, unlike the netbook, the usage model for smartbooks will be actually different from the laptop model. Rather than squeezing desktop Windows apps onto a tiny system that feels cramped, you'll visit a cell phone-like app store and download cheap widgets that feel spacious, even on a tiny, 9-inch screen.

Smartbooks will be instant on, quickly or always connected, and the applications will favor browser-based, cloudy usage models (unlike the netbook, where network centricity was a load of hooey).

Hardware manufacturers will be super motivated to make them, too, because the margins will be higher. With netbooks, pitted in a lowest-price-wins competitive environment, the margins are constantly pushed towards zero. But because smartbooks will be sold like cell phones rather than laptops, the margins are all in the carrier deals. They'll be selling subsidized smartbooks at the carrier stores for less than $200.

Maybe they'll even give 'em away. But carriers will make a fortune on the required two-year contract, and cut OEMs in on the deal.

Who Will Dominate?

One of the most interesting aspects of all this is that both Windows CE (i.e. Windows Mobile) and Android have always been better suited to a laptop-type device than a cell phone.

I think Microsoft might finally have an opportunity to succeed in the coming smartbook market for corporate and business customers. Google's network centricity and open flexibility will lead to some very interesting devices in the smartbook space. Microsoft and Google will likely emerge as leaders in the coming smartbook space.

But the dominant leader in the market will be -- wait for it -- Apple! Yeah, I said it! I'm predicting that the coming (rumored) Apple Tablet will be crowned Queen of the Smartbooks. It will probably run something that is or works like the iPhone OS, and it will probably run applications from the iTunes app store -- or something like it. It will probably offer the full compliment of smartbook attributes: ARM-based, instant-on, cell phone apps and cloud-centrism.

When smartbooks go mainstream, everyone will wonder: Why did they call those tiny laptops "netbooks"?

Good question.

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