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The Death of the Netbook

Brief and short lived, the netbook filled a niche role for many, but profits are down and the tablets are to blame


Earlier this year, the last two major netbook manufacturers announced that they each would no longer produce netbooks. This is not much of a surprise with the increasing amount of smartphones, tablets, and cheap-throwaway laptops that have flooded the market making the little netbook weak in the very market it was created to fill. I don’t even own a netbook anymore. I gave it to my niece to be her first computer. So why does this announcement bother me? To understand why the netbook is important in my mind, you have to look at what the netbook is and at the product that is trying to replace it.

Filling the Gap

First off, the netbook filled the space in between the fledgling smartphone market and the heavy and expensive laptop market. People wanted to have an inexpensive alternative that would allow them to browse the web, watch videos, chat with friends, and work on projects without having to lug around the heavy laptop or spend the down payment on their car for the ultrabooks.

Users also wanted to be able to sit on the couch with their computer on their laps and not have to deal with the heat that a laptop produces. The netbook filled all of these requirements and barely cost more than smartphone on a two-year contract. Sure, the keyboard was designed for the hands of a 10 year old, but at least it was a qwerty and once Windows was made available, any program that could be run on the netbook operated just about the same as it did at home- only slower.

Along came the tablet

Then came the tablets. These little technological marvels performed every trick that the netbook did, but in a more portable and user-friendly way. Sure, the cost for a tablet was significantly more and there wasn’t a real keyboard and you could only use applications (the new word for program) that were provided through a portal owned by the operating systems makers… but, look… it’s so shiny and new!

Look, I get the reason most people would rather have a tablet over a netbook. Users today are consumers of data. Most users expect to create nothing more than a Facebook status update or Pinterest pin. The only reason these users want to use a tablet instead of their smartphone is that its easier to tap the letters on the screen and because YouTube videos of kittens are easier to see on a 10” screen while sitting at a stop sign holding up traffic.

What about people who want produce data on the go, but can’t afford the ultrabook pricing but need more functionality than the tablets provide? In my case, a number of my best short stories were written at a back table of my favorite restaurant on an Asus Eee PC. I was able to use a full version of OpenOffice with all the shortcuts, all the key binds, and all the options that I also had on my home PC. Try that on a tablet. Even if you purchase the keyboard accessory, most of the time tablet users still have to tap the screen to perform basic actions like italics or bolding of words. Man was not meant to use a keyboard AND touchscreen.

Upset about its death...

So why am I upset that the noble netbook is slowly disappearing into the land of Betamax and laserdisc? I am upset because the market that the netbook created and filled so adequately has been replaced by a 10” smartphone. I am upset because the only tablet that runs Word well costs as much as a cheap ultrabook. I am upset because I want cost effective solutions for portability and productivity and not one tablet solution truly provides this. I am upset about the death of the netbook because I planned to buy a new one someday and now I won’t have that option.

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