Netbooks dead? Yes, in the student market at least

Netbooks dead? Yes, in the student market at least

Summary: Netbooks and students don't go together, and with IDC's predictions that netbooks have hit a sales growth wall, perhaps we should write off the netbook altogether?


The netbook is dead, according to my editor-in-chief Larry Dignan. I'm inclined to agree with him frankly; as Gartner and IDC project that netbooks will not sell as many as they have done before, or even ever.

Chris Dawson, education enthusiast, to some extent disagrees and sees the wide opportunity for younger users to easily get themselves into technology. Plus, on a strange level, netbooks are mini-laptops for smaller people - children in particular. Still, Chris hopes netbooks won't go away any time soon. Again, I'm inclined to agree but for the student market, there is not much place for netbooks.

I could walk into any lecture theater on campus and pick out from the 200 students in there around 50 of them are using laptops, and only 1 or 2 are using a netbook. Students don't see a benefit in getting a netbook, with the exception of the compact size and lighter weight.

Netbooks are smaller, thinner, more "lightweight" (in more ways than the obvious) laptops. The screens are tiny, the keyboard is - well, the same size - but there isn't much room for error, the memory capacity is low and there's nothing more than an on-board graphics and sound card. They're not meant to be fantastic, but should bridge the gap somewhat between a smartphone and a laptop.

But Steve Jobs says that's what the iPad will do. And though I hate to admit it, he has a point when he said, "...but netbooks aren't good at anything". Maybe battery life - I'll give you that one - but nothing else.

Instead, I see more and more students opting for the middle ground between a fully fledged laptop and a netbook - the 'in-between area' which hasn't been defined properly yet; not slate PC's and not necessarily touch-screen computers, but small and powerful laptops like the HP Touchsmart tx2 to throw in a random example.

It's small, it's light, it's powerful and it's flexible. It isn't the greatest student laptop in the world, but it surely won't be outweighed by the netbook in any case. But even taking the tx2 out of the equation, I'd prefer my BlackBerry to a netbook. At least you can fit it in your pocket...

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Laptops

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  • wrong students

    I think you are looking at the wrong student
    sector.. for schools (read aged 5 - 16) looking to
    roll out 1:1 devices netbooks are perfect.
    • You got it

      I was about to post the exact same thing; this article assumes a rather narrow definition of "students." There are far more students at the younger grade levels--students for whom netbooks are ideal--than there are in universities.
      • Even at Universities

        There are more students in areas that do not require high processing power than those that do.

        Psychology, Liberal arts, Biology, Chemistry.

        Of course a Computer Science or a Graphic design major may require serious CPU but I think that the author of the blog considered a narrow sample.
        • Exactly what I was thinking...

          ... but I'll take this one step further.

          These assumptions of "sales growth will plateau" in the netbook market are completely moronic; remember, this time a year ago they were GROWING in market share at 10-25% a month. Not KEEPING a 10-25% market share, but GROWING at that rate. That rate of growth is simply unsustainable; it is an entrepreneur's wet dream, but it simply CANNOT continue.

          Why? because the product WAS BRAND NEW; and here's how this applies to today's college students:

          While there are some who can afford the newest and greatest out there, by and large, your average college student will get their computer kicked down by an older sibling or by a parent. This product is TOO NEW to have made it through that process; THAT is why you see so many fullsize notebooks out there, NOT because netbooks aren't useful.

          Most college students keep EVERYTHING they need on a thumbdrive nowadays (my wife is a perfect example) because they often HAVE to work on school hardware at some times and their own at others. NOBODY NEEDS an optical drive anymore; all they NEED is a Browser, an Office Suite, Network/WiFi, and a USB port.

          Netbooks have that IN SPADES, and they offer the portability and battery life students NEED. If it weren't for the fact that I built my wife a refurbished HP 12" ultralight over 2 years ago, she would be ALL OVER the new Dell & HP Netbooks.

          Manufacturers have heard the call as well; this last year's models have high resolution (though STILL compact) brilliant screens, nearly full-size (HP's 92% scale version is SWEET) keyboards, and are even sporting multi-touch pointing devices with full version OS on a 160GB HDD.

          All for less than $300, with refurb units available at the major online chains right around $220, shipping included.

          Bottom line:

          It's not that students don't WANT or NEED a Netbook; it's just that they haven't had time to trickle down the supply chain yet.
          • Personally, I think you're wrong.

            While I will accede that a netbook is all that most students up to and
            including college [i]needs[/i], it is not all that they [i]want.[/i] Most
            students want the best possible computer they can get for their
            money--at least a fair proportion of these use MacBooks and MacBook
            Pros. The rest want something they can view and web browse easily
            and, if possible, do some gaming. These factors alone require a
            significantly larger screen than any netbook carries, and more video
            power, too.

            Netbooks are cheap enough that any student can afford one with only a
            week or two's pay from working at the nearest fast-food joint. About
            the only time you'll see a student buy a netbook is if the full-sized
            notebook their parents gave them dies for whatever reason, then they'll
            buy the cheapest they can get away with. It also doesn't help when
            many colleges have minimum hardware specifications that go far
            beyond a netbook's capabilities.

            Bottom line, they've already trickled down--sales have to plateau,
            especially when you consider that for most of last year, Acer and
            Toshiba both were seeing a full 50% sales growth of netbooks year
            over year while almost all other PC platforms (not including Apple) were
            seeing only 5% growth or less. And this, by no means, takes into
            consideration the new generation of slate-type touch tablet machines
            that should provide all the capabilities of a netbook in a much more
            usable form factor.
          • I don't see what you're taking issue with...

            ... in my statement; for the most part, you are saying exactly what I just said in different words.

            Except for the part about WANTING more capability, that is.

            Sure, everybody WANTS the full-bling every extra goodies in anything they buy. Who wouldn't?

            Oh, wait... maybe the guy who has to carry it around on his back along with a dozen textbooks any two of which cost more than a modern NetBook. Or the girl who doesn't use their portable that much anyways, so why carry around the desktop-replacement model at 4 times the size & weight just to type out an eMail at lunch which, BTW, the NetBook actually FITS on the table...

            Or maybe... the person who knows EXACTLY what s/he needs in a portable computer and realizes that s/he can get it all in a package the size of a paperback novel, and still have money left over to fill it up with eBooks and movies & music off of iTunes...

            Naaah... no student would ever WANT what a NetBook has to offer.
          • Are you actually a student, yourself?

            I find your comments to be patently ridiculous, and I say that as someone who recommends portable computers to students all the time.

            Most students I've encountered are NOT looking for the "full bling" in a portable computer at all. In fact, they usually have an "under $1000" price limit they're willing to spend on one. That means at the high-end, they can barely squeeze in a purchase of an Apple Macbook (NOT a Pro or Air). And if they go for PC/Windows notebooks, they tend to buy those $400-600 models from Toshiba, Gateway, Lenovo or HP that offer "middle of the road" processor and video capabilities. What they're usually concerned about, however, is screen real-estate and comfort in use. Netbooks, for lack of a better word, suck - because their screens don't even draw enough vertical pixels to conform to one of the monitor display standards that's been around forever. (Instead of 800x600, or even the lowly 640x480, you tend to get an oddball resolution with them like 640x400.) You're forced to scroll your application window up and down to see/access all of it. HIGHLY annoying and counter-productive!

            Their keyboards are improving, but again, they're rather cramped compared to a standard notebook. They throw off your typing speed if you switch often between one of them and a regular desktop or laptop.
        • Point

          They are way to slow, more ram more processing power and I would get one!
        • Of those four fields ...

          Three of them can be extremely compute intensive at the college level. Of the four, only Liberal Arts lacks any serious mathemetical modelling needs.

          The more important issue than raw computing power is screen size. College students spend far more hours per say behind a backlit screen than so K-12 students. They also need to work on multiple assignments throughout the day.

          Typical college students might have their e-mail open all day long, as well as their facebook pages, and their iTunes player. Oh, and they are likely surfing other web pages as well.

          Their computing needs (or should I say WANTS) are just not as baseline as the K-12 student whose computing environment is tightly controlled.
          M Wagner
      • Students - or pupils ?

        Outside the United States, the term 'student' is usually only used to mean
        students in [i]tertiary[/i] education.

        Students in primary and secondary schools, including 21-year-old kids at
        Sixth Form College, are called [i]pupils[/i].
    • Why?

      The support issues are the same as laptops, and the prices are similar.
      Apart from weight, what have NetBooks got over the new wave of
      "cheap" laptops?

      Once you start looking at a NetBook you'd actually want to use, there
      is no price differential.

      The iPad at least won't cost as much to support (and its restricted
      nature will actually help quite often - not to mention Apple have some
      damn good tools for supporting "Enterprise" iPhone's - I see no
      reason why the iPad will be any different.

      I know the "fanboys" will see it differently, but the iPad has some
      serious chops as an educational computer. It is far cheaper to support
      than a traditional laptop, and that's a lot more important than initial
      purchase cost (which isn't too horrific - assuming you stay away from
      the 3G version).
      • Before you praise iPods and iPads...

        [i]...not to mention Apple have some
        damn good tools for supporting "Enterprise" iPhone's - I see no
        reason why the iPad will be any different.[/i]

        You're kidding, right?

        I'm taking it you haven't attempted to manage a cartload of these in a classroom. ...or attempted to deploy them.

        Apple's configuration tool is little more than a 1:1 interface for pushing a profile -- there are no initial image based tools and absolutely no method nor mechanism for simultaneously touching 5, 10 or twenty of these units in sync.

        Don't even get me started with the lackluster, 'on or off' nature of many of the features. Until you can at least get more granular with editing profile restrictions or Apple provides an educational gateway to the iTMS, these devices have some pretty serious pitfalls in the "my kid saw what?!? in the classroom!"

        While I do not disagree that there is a great amount of potential for both the iPod Touch (and, ostensibly, the iPad) in a learning environment; the ability to properly fine tune content for age level and the deplorable management tools are a serious hindrance.

        On a personal side; I'm looking forward to an iPad. On the professional side, I really hope I wrap my Mac deployment contract up before the school district attempts to deploy a couple hundred of them...
  • The weight factor

    One of my kids is studying at university, and simply loves the netbook. It weighs far less than a laptop and has superior battery life.

    The weight factor is very important, as university students generally have to carry a lot of heavy books with them.

    The small screen size is no problem, als long as the netbook is running on an operating system with a specially adapted user interface, like Ubuntu Netbook Remix.
    • Don't get me wrong - I agree

      Maybe it comes down to marketing at the end of the day. One could argue that Windows is no different to Linux - it's just been marketed in a far different way - making it the "industry standard". Netbooks haven't in my opinion been commercially plugged as much as their predecessor laptops. If students like netbooks - great. But it's just they're not that popular. I'm not saying they're unpopular, but there aren't many of them.
    • The cost factor, too.

      If for long term project, or other such uses, a laptop is much more suited to them.

      And for others, a netbook is perfect.

      And on the go everyday, a smartphone works just fine.

      So which do you give up if you can't afford all three?
      John Zern
      • That's an easy one ... the netbook! (nt)

        M Wagner
    • Try an 11.6" netbook for a weight/screen size compromise

      I have an 11.6" HP Mini 311 netbook that cost $399. It's a shame there aren't many 11.6" netbooks on the market because they are a good compromise if you want a lightweight laptop with a larger screen compared to the full-size laptops and the 10.1" netbooks. The 10.1" screens are too small, and many full-size laptops are too heavy. The price and the weight were major deciding factors for me. I already have a desktop as well as a 15.4" laptop that has become my second home computer. I bought the netbook just before I went on a trip last year because it was lightweight and didn't take up too much space in my carry-on luggage. While away from home, I wanted to access the internet, compose documents, download photos, load and interface with my MP3 player, print boarding passes, and other such computing tasks. Since I got back, I find that I carry the netbook everywhere. I don't need an optical drive often, but I can always carry one if I need to install software or burn an occasional music CD.

      Contrary to some opinions posted here, not all netbooks are powerless "toys." Mine has a 160GB hard drive and 1 GB of memory (which I plan to upgrade to 2 GB), an Nvidia Ion LE graphics card, and an HDMI interface. Netbooks may not be the solution for those who need or prefer heavy-duty hardware like multi-core CPU's, powerful graphics cards and sound cards, etc. for serious gaming, graphics work, drafting, video/music editing, etc. However, they are perfect for many students and travelers. The price point is also great for the poor college student, low-income person, family that wants an inexpensive first computer for their kids, or anyone else with simple computing needs.
      I, for one, hope netbooks will be around for awhile, or at least that tablet PC's will become more affordable and less bulky. From what I've read about the iPad, it wouldn't meet MY needs, at least not at an affordable price. Can't speak for others; and I am NOT criticizing the iPad--it just wouldn't work for me.
      • I second that - 11.6 is ideal for netbook

        I have a 15" laptop also and tried a 10" netbook. I returned that for the 11.6 and have been happy since. The extra screen space is just enough to make it a great compromise. I didn't expect as much of a difference it made when I bought it. Was mainly going for the increased memory (mine came with 2GB) and the larger battery (came with a 6 cell). even with the increased weight form the battery, it's still a lot lighter than the 15" laptop and not much heavier than the 10". With that said, netbooks are here to stay. They will find their niche and rule it. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
        • *Cough*SubNotebook*Cough*

          The 12" models have always been the domain of the "Ultraportable" or "SubNotebook"... exactly NOT a Netbook. 0.4" doesn't make enough difference to not call it a Notebook; anything at or around 11" or larger really isn't a Netbook anymore.

          Don't get me wrong; The "A4" size machines have a lot to offer - that's why I built one for my wife. But once you get in that range, you're really not talking NetBook platform and you're NOT paying NetBook prices, either.

          It's a Notebook, not a NetBook.
  • Sales figures say otherwise. nt