Future of netbooks, laptops unfolds at Computex

For a peek into the crystal ball of mobile computing, we take a look at what has been announced at Computex in Taiwan this week

Credit: Concept design from Freescale Semiconductor

Taiwan's Computex conference has been quietly generating some interesting news on the future of netbooks and laptops.

For a peek into the crystal ball of mobile computing, we take a look at what has been announced in Taipei, Taiwan, this week.

Mobile-phone-based netbooks are growing
'Smartbooks', as described by companies such as Qualcomm, seem to be this year's netbook. It is mostly a naming-convention shift: ARM processors based on smartphone chips, such as Qualcomm's Snapdragon, were demoed on Asus Eee PC netbooks, running Android.

While Snapdragon competitor Freescale Semiconductor, which makes an ARM-based iMX515 processor, predicts hybrid smartbooks that will look like tablets, others see them being even-more-portable netbooks.

Android netbooks on the way
Regardless of the processor, companies are also announcing the release of Android netbooks, running a laptop-based version of the Google-created smartphone OS later this year.

Acer took the leap by confirming its release of Android netbooks by the third quarter of this year.

So is Android really a better OS solution? The point may be moot for laptop manufacturers such as Acer who are also entering the smartphone space, and are mostly likely interested in targeting Google for an across-the-board mobile OS option on their future devices. According to Acer, "a majority" of their netbooks will run Android as an alternative to Windows.

The challenge for Linux
Linux's relatively brandless environment has been a challenge in an app-store world, although this week's RealNetworks announcement of RealPlayer being preinstalled on Linux netbooks and Instant-On OS platforms is a big step for Ubuntu being able to keep up with the easy media-playing capability of netbook machines. It also adds some brand recognition and codec consolidation.

Shown at Computex were several Moblin Linux-based netbook prototypes, as well the announcement of Ubuntu Moblin Remix, the next graphical interface evolution beyond Ubuntu and a possible candidate for an OS specifically geared towards ultramobile PCs such as netbooks.

Future technology for screens, touch pads
Regardless of whether Apple moves into the netbook space, Windows netbooks are heading towards MacBook-like touch pad interfaces.

Synaptics's ClickPad version of their next multitouchpad was shown off this week, being targeted mainly at future netbooks with smaller keyboard areas.

Finding a way to fit buttons into small netbook frames has been a challenge, and going button-free would also allow the touch pad to be made even larger. Whether Windows 7 supports the ClickPad as well as Apple supports their MacBook single-button multitouchpad remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, taking a page from the easy-to-read reflective e-ink screens of e-readers, Pixel Qi demonstrated a highly reflective LCD screen on an Acer netbook that can be used in daylight with no backlighting. The hybrid screen can switch between e-readeresque and full-colored brightly backlit states for battery conservation.

Intel, Microsoft leaving netbooks behind?
As Intel continues supporting its Core 2 Duo-equivalent CULV energy-efficient mobile processors, the focus on Atom seems to be waning.

But according to Intel, that is not the case, especially with new Atom processors on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has said that it would rather not use the netbook name any more, choosing "low-cost small notebook PC" instead.

As ULV and CULV processors take over the mobile Centrino space to create lower-cost, thinner laptops, and smartphone-evolved ARM processors begin to chip away at the Atom-based netbook category, the days of netbooks as we knew them may already be numbered.

This article was orginally posted on CNET Crave.