Netbook Evolution Stops at Ten Inches
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Netbook computers have quickly evolved to strike the right balance of size that appeals to consumers and economic feasibility that appeals to the OEMs/ODMs making them. That appears to be around the 10-inch screen mark.
Research from the Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC) found a significant change in demand for certain size netbooks, the small-size notebook computers with a low-power processor like the Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Atom instead of an Intel Core 2 or AMD Turion.
MIC reported that in the first quarter of 2009, shipments of netbooks with 7-inch and 8.9-inch netbooks fell rapidly while 10-inch models quickly became the market leaders. The research focused on China, but also examined other parts of the world.
The firm found that sub-10-inch notebook sales fell 11.8 percent sequentially in the first quarter of 2009. However, Acer, Dell and other players launched 10-inch products in the first quarter of 2009, cut production of 8.9-inch devices and, as a result, 10-inch products accounted for about 70 percent of total shipment volume in the first quarter in China.
"Besides small-volume shipments for specific tenders, production of 7-inch and 8.9-inch products is expected to be gradually halted in the first half of 2009," wrote Ya Wei Ku, industry analyst with MIC, in a report. "Brands including Acer are also rolling out 11.6-inch products, hoping to expand the original netbook PC market segment."
Beyond China, Ku said, Western Europe has been the focus of Acer and Asus, the two dominant players in netbooks, and they know the region well. Europe is where many connectivity providers have begun offering subsidized netbooks in exchange for a multi-year contract, similar to cell phones. That strategy has begun to catch on in the U.S. as well.
"However, Western Europe has been heavily affected by the global financial crisis and starting at the end of 2008, market demand became weak," said Ku. "In North America, major operators AT&T and Verizon started to promote bundled sales of mobile broadband and netbook PCs, while the North American retail market did not decline as much as was originally forecasted. As a result, the industry's shipment share for North America increased slightly."
IDC's Take on NetworksIDC analyst Richard Shim said MIC's findings match what IDC is seeing as well. "[The report] actually makes a lot of sense. We're seeing a pretty rapid shift to 10-inch screens. There may be a little bleed over to 11 and 12, but the majority will be in 10-inch," he told InternetNews.com
Consumers liked the portability of the smaller seven- and eight-inch screen devices, but "in a lot of cases, it comes down to keyboard size, and 10 inches provides keyboards with 92 percent and up to 100 percent of the size of a standard notebook keyboard.
"Ten inches gives that right balance between portability and usability in keyboard size, and it provides the optimal economies of scale. You can put an Atom processor and Windows in an 11- or 12-inch product but it's not economically optimal," said Shim.