Netbook Shipments on the Rise

In a down economy, netbook vendors have something to cheer. Sales are ramping up for these lightweight portable computers.

Today market analysis firm ABI Research issued a report forecasting that worldwide shipments of netbooks will reach nearly 35 million this year. And this is no one hit wonder in ABI’s view. The company projects netbook shipments will keep on trucking to an estimated 139 million in 2013, more than tripling within four years.

ABI ties the rise of the netbook to a “confluence of social and technological factors” that has created a kind of “perfect storm” leading to the sales boom estimate for the next few years.

“PDA’s began our reliance on instant accessible data while traveling. When PDA functionality converged with cellular voice, smartphones became the new darling of mobile professional technology that many expected to evolve into the hub for all data and communication needs for traveling professionals,” said ABI director Kevin Burden in a statement.

“Today, with a better understanding for what a smartphone is, is not, and may never be, along with a reality check on the usefulness of UMPCs, the market remains open for new device types.”

UMPC is an acronym for Ultra Mobile PCs, lightweight notebook computers generally priced higher than traditional notebooks. Netbooks, by contrast, have fewer features and less performance than standard notebooks, but are priced hundreds of dollars less (as low as $200 to $400) and weigh only a few pounds with screen sizes under 10 inches).

ABIs forecast sounded overly-bullish to analyst Roger Kay with Endpoint Technologies Associates. “I’ve seen some forecasts of 40 million netbook sales in 2012,” Kay told

What’s driving sales?

He said one problem is definition. Not everyone will regard these systems as netbooks. But no matter what you call the devices, the sales growth is undeniable. “There’s no question netbooks are moving into the mainstream, thanks in no small part to Intel’s lower cost Atom processor and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) lowering its licensing fees on Windows XP,” said Kay.

As for the UMPC or ultraportable notebooks, Kay said it’s fast becoming a niche item for power users. “A lot of people are saying if I can get most of what I need for $200 to $400 less than what I’d pay for a standard notebook computer, I’m going to do that.”

Pricing could change a bit in a year when Microsoft is expected to release Windows 7, the next version of the Windows operating system. Because XP is older software, Kay said Microsoft is comfortable offering it as a discount, but it may well charge netbook makers more for Windows 7 when its released adding to the overall cost of the systems.

“My suspicion is Microsoft will charge a bit more, maybe $10 to $20 more, but not too much,” said Kay. “They don’t want to lose that market.”

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