Netbooks: come and gone?

For the last week I've been meaning to write about the death of netbooks. But as I tried to pull my thoughts together it was difficult to come to some sort of overarching conclusion.

My wife have been [almost] happily using netbook for more than 2 years now, but her complaints about unresponsiveness, when she opens more than several tabs in Firefox, seem to grow every day. Still she does not want to change it for a far superior (performance wise) 15" Dell as she likes the form factor and the fact that she does not have to be on power leash most of the time. As for me, I definitely liked the price when I bought it and looking back I do not see anything which would have given same return on investment. Why is that?

Throughout the history of portable computers we always wanted 4 things

  • powerful
  • lightweight
  • longer battery life
  • inexpensive

Traditional laptops gravitated towards kind of powerful and relatively inexpensive and that was what was needed to have a "mobile office" and be able to easily setup a workplace, when you moved between locations. But times changed. As free WiFi in public places started becoming a norm, getting power for your laptop right where you needed became more problematic hence emphasizing drawback of short battery life. Also carrying around 3 kilos was not exactly the most pleasant exercise for a more mobile yet always connected lifestyle.

Netbooks were (yep, it is "were" not "are" since powerhouses of netbooks wave Asus and Acer stopped production on January 1, 2013) an interesting experiment to meet changing demands of a modern computer user. Cheap, lightweight yet underpowered computers with relatively long life on battery looked like a promising way into the future of mobile computing.

While the bet on mobility was right for netbooks the compromise on the performance went too far. Now many of those who need a mobile laptop would rather pay the price for a more powerful ultrabook or MacBook Air, and those who value mobility above all would opt-in for iPad.

We could have declared the death of netbooks as a class right here, but let's take a look at Amazon's best selling laptops:

Amazon's best selling laptops on January 7, 2013

From hardware standpoint Chromebook is still a netbook and it remains to be seen whether it drag the idea of relatively underpowered, inexpensive cheap mobile computer into the future.