RealTime IT News

Boom Times Already Here for Netbooks?

As if it wasn't already obvious: Netbooks have arrived. And in a big way.

That's the key takeaway from ABI Research's latest report on the scope of the market for the tiny, low-powered notebook PCs, finding that the portable devices have truly arrived and are poised to continue racking up sales as the year winds down.

The research firm is forecasting that manufacturers will ship almost 35 million netbooks this year. That's a big number for a product category that only started to take off two years ago.

The other development of note is that more computer and mobile device makers are getting into the game, such as Lenovo and Nokia.

"Seventy-four percent of 2008 netbook shipments bore the brands of just three vendors: Acer, Asus, and Samsung," ABI Research senior analyst Jeff Orr said in a statement. "However, the rapid growth of netbooks as a second computer in developed markets will be eclipsed in coming years by vendors targeting developing nations and first Internet PCs at home."

Netbooks are part of a broader trend toward smaller computing devices noted in the ABI Research report "Netbooks, MIDs and Mobile CE Market Data," which also looks at so-called MID, or Mobile Internet Devices, and mobile consumer electronics (CE) devices.

The mobile consumer electronics category is only expected to account for about 2 million device shipments this year, but ABI expects these CE devices will top 50 million in 2014. This market is currently led by connected Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs) and e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle.

The leaders in the eBook market, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Sony, face a growing list of competitors that have or plan to ship products soon including the Barnes & Noble Nook, iRex and the Plastic Logic Que.

Laptop vendors have an answer

Meanwhile, ABI noted that laptop vendors aren't ready to cede the low end of the portable market to the low-margin netbook. Orr believes laptop vendors may soon "reinvent" the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) category, using ultra-low voltage technology.

Instead of occupying the UMPC's traditionally higher-priced niche, Orr believes these new devices could be priced at the $500 level.

"That could affect some netbook sales in developed markets, especially the business users," he said.

And while the netbook market is today dominated by Intel's Atom chip, other vendors are looking to shake things up. Last year, nVidia launched its GeForce 9400M "Ion" graphics chipset for Netbooks and small desktop designs, the same graphics chip used in the current generation of Apple MacBooks.

The GeForce 9400 GPU offers much better graphics performance than the integrated graphics chipsets that come with Atom-powered netbooks. It also plays full 1080p high-definition video, supports the full Windows Vista user interface and newer Windows 7, and runs popular 3D PC games.

ARM, the UK semiconductor firm that's big in mobile devices, recently released a dual-core processor for netbooks and other devices that's available for license.