Netbooks Now 10% of Toshiba’s U.S. Shipments

Lightweight netbooks have rocketed to 10 percent of Toshiba’s U.S. laptop computer shipments just months after the Japanese electronics maker began selling them for the first time.

Larger rivals like Hewlett-Packard and Dell have sold netbooks in the United States for more than a year. Toshiba unveiled its first two U.S. netbooks — cheap, ultra-light no-frills laptops designed mainly for Internet surfing — in June.

“We had some supply limitations so I think we could have probably sold some more, but it’s about what we thought,” said Jeff Barney, general manager of digital products for Toshiba America, in an interview with Reuters.

Barney said he sees netbooks accounting for a steady 10 percent of Toshiba’s U.S. unit shipments going forward.

“Ten percent is a good number for us,” he said. “That means that the rest of our line is still selling well.”

Netbooks have become a crucial segment of the ailing global computer industry, driving sales growth at many companies. But they often translate into lower margins, and some analysts argue they cannibalize — or replace — sales of more expensive, full-service laptops.

But despite their lower price tag, Barney said margins for Toshiba’s U.S. netbooks were not that different from margins on its laptops, though he would not elaborate.

Worldwide shipments of cheap netbook PCs have skyrocketed, according to research house IDC, which forecasts such shipments to more than double this year to 26 million units.

Toshiba’s U.S. PC shipments jumped 34 percent in the second quarter, according to IDC. The company ranks No. 4 in the U.S. market.

Three-fourths of Toshiba’s U.S. PC sales go to consumers, Barney said, adding that he thought the U.S. market would show sustained growth.

Barney said the company might consider relationships with telcos for netbooks and notebooks. PC makers are mulling selling their computers through telecoms operators, bundled with a wireless usage plan, much as cellphone makers now do.

Most PC manufacturers are considering this strategy with netbooks only, because they are primarily designed to hook up to wireless networks.

“What appeals to us about the carrier channel is their retail footprint. As a PC OEM (original equipment manufacturer) with a strong retail presence, having additional storefronts is something that is appealing to us,” he said.

He also said the company is studying Google’s Chrome operating system, but has not committed to using it.

Chrome is a PC operating system based on Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chrome Web browser, announced in July. It is expected in the second half of 2010, and will compete with Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X.

“Chrome is promising, but looking at the infrastructure it seems it’s a bit early,” he said.

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