Netbook’s Feature Creep Blurs Distinction

Asustek Computer plans to launch an Eee PC netbook with an 11.6-inch screen later this month, according to a report. The screen size would be the biggest yet for the netboook maker. The company still considers the model with the 10-inch screen to be its mainstream model, accounting for 50 percent of total shipments, but according to the report in Taiwanese Web site DigiTimes, the larger screen unit could account for a good 30 percent of its business.

As it is, Asus has pushed the limits of netbooks by offering optical drives, something not usually seen in netbooks. Now it’s pushing the screen sizes larger.

All this risks the blurring of the line between netbook and notebook, a line that wasn’t all that well defined in the first place, noted IDC analyst Richard Shim. The two key differentiators have been screen size – netbooks are 11 inches or less while notebooks are generally 13 inches or more – and processor – Intel’s Atom for netbook, a full blown x86 processor from Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) or AMD (NYSE: AMD) in the notebook.

“The line [between the two models] is already blurred, there’s no question about that,” he told “It’s just a question of how do we make it easier for the consumer to understand what these products are and what they are getting. The industry hasn’t been good about that.”

He added that mini notebooks started out as just value systems, super cheap notebooks with just a few functions, but now you are starting to see them spread out into different areas of functionality.

Some are more high-end, like Sony’s Vaio P series, others are more performance-focused, while still others are meant to be value systems. “We’re starting to see them evolve into a more fleshed out category,” said Shim.

Asus is pushing hard on all notebook fronts. It is coming out with a 15.6-inch notebook with an ultra-low voltage processor, the XS15, priced at US$1,063 to $1,330 (depending on configuration) as well as 13.3 and 14-inch models coming out in July.

As the lines between the two categories get rejiggered and moved around, Shim thinks the industry is still trying to figure out where everything should go. “The industry has been somewhat blinded because the growth rates [of netbooks] are so aggressive. All they know is they gotta get in the market,” he said.

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