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Can ultrathin laptop David beat the netbook Goliath?

Are netbooks too portable, inexpensive and popular to beat?Brooke Crothers writes on his CNET blog that the netbook's popularity is perhaps too great to overcome by the burgeoning ultrathin laptop market, and takes Apple COO Tim Cook to task for bashing netbooks in April for being too cheap, "junky" and slow for the upmarket Apple brand.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

Are netbooks too portable, inexpensive and popular to beat?

Brooke Crothers writes on his CNET blog that the netbook's popularity is perhaps too great to overcome by the burgeoning ultrathin laptop market, and takes Apple COO Tim Cook to task for bashing netbooks in April for being too cheap, "junky" and slow for the upmarket Apple brand.

That Apple's got a tablet PC in the pipeline is hardly a question at this point. But Crothers wonders: with lots of reliable, polished netbook models on store shelves, will a lack of a netbook take a bite out of ultrathins -- and Apple?

He writes:

There is just too much marketing momentum now behind Netbooks at large PC makers--and in retail. Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, and Acer all are pushing Netbooks. And in Japan, easily one the largest PC markets in the world, the Netbook is a hit--despite initial resistance from Japanese PC makers--for all of the same reasons cited above: small, light, inexpensive--and add fashionable.

Why the popularity? The same argument netbook proponents have made since the very beginning: though some may be disappointed by netbook performance, they're sufficient for most consumers - home, educational or business -- to accomplish basic, mostly web-based tasks.

Of course, no one's more happy about that than Intel, which has a near-monopoly over the category thanks to its Atom processor. And since the $500 to $1,000 ultrathin, ultra-low voltage laptop segment hasn't quite distinguished itself from traditional notebooks and netbooks (confused yet?), it's hardly a threat to the diminutive netbook.

Meanwhile, it's Apple's loss, Crothers writes:

Apple's products and marketing are good but not infallible. And the lack of a Netbook may come back to bite Apple at some point. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next month. But maybe next year. One of the Best Buy customers eying a Netbook made a comment that was a powerful counterpoint to all the Apple Mac-PC ads. To paraphrase: "You have to pay an arm and a leg for Apple (pointing to the Apple corner), I'm trying to make a practical business decision here."

The way I see it, there's value in both a small form factor and a thin profile. In other words: I believe netbooks will remain reasonably popular and ultrathins will grow in popularity. Traditional laptops, on the other hand, will (for all but performance applications) be phased out of the market.

What do you think?

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