Dell’s Netbook Retired for Being Too Big

As the old cliché goes, the bigger they come, the harder they fall. That would seem to apply to netbooks as well: Dell has announced the demise of its Inspiron Mini 12 netbook.

Dell first introduced the Mini 12 late last year. As the name implies, it sports a 12.1-inch display.

Dell’s Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca confirmed the model’s termination on a blog post after a number of gadget and hobbyist sites got wind of the news.

“So, should you read anything into this as far as Dell’s commitment to the netbook space? Nope. It really boils down to this: For a lot of customers, 10-inch displays are the sweet spot for netbooks. That’s why we offer two different 10-inch Inspiron netbooks for Mini 10 and the Mini 10v,” he wrote.

“Larger notebooks require a little more horsepower to be really useful,” Menchaca added.

In addition to a 12.1-inch screen — a typical screen size for older notebooks —
the Mini 12 also has an Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Atom Silverthorne processor and a maximum of 1GB of memory. It sold for $600. Considering many notebooks sell for that price, it’s a wonder Dell sold any.

One reason it cost so much, IDC Analyst Richard Shim said, is because there was no “marketing relief” from Intel.

“You have to pay more for using an Atom in a 12-inch device, so to speak,” he told “Intel wants Atoms used in devices 10 inches or smaller, so they encourage that by giving marketing relief funds. If you go beyond those specs, you don’t get those funds.”

The Dell unit had a number of issues. Shim notes it was limited to 1GB of memory, which hurt performance.

“For them to say people expect a 12-inch device to have decent performance when [Dell] limited it to 1GB of system memory seems kind of funny,” he said.

Then there’s the fact that Dell is not the first name in netbooks. That honor goes to Asus and Acer, the two leaders in the netbook market. Dell entered the space late and has yet to make a name for itself as a consumer player like those vendors or HP (NYSE: HPQ) — or a slew of others.

“Dell came late to the market and its weakness as a consumer vendor is hurting them,” Shim said. “There are way too many netbook vendors.”

To Dell’s credit, it has been experimenting pretty aggressively, he noted. It was the first vendor to try a 12-inch device and the first to partner with a different channel. In Dell’s case, it was a bundling deal with cable giant Comcast.

“But with these things, if you don’t jump into the driver’s seat right away, it’s hard to play catch up,” Shim said.

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