Netbooks dead? Not when sales are up 264 percent

Can the best-selling category of the PC market really be just a fad? A junky joke? A stunt to prop up the PC market created by Intel? Not quite. Netbooks may be panned but consumers are still buying them.

Can the best-selling category of the PC market really be just a fad? A junky joke? A stunt to prop up the PC market created by Intel?

Jason Hiner at TechRepublic seems to think so. He proclaims:

Netbooks — those underpowered mini laptops with 7-inch screens and unusable little keyboards — are a dying fad. However, the legacy of the netbook will be that inexpensive notebook computers are here to stay, and they are lighter and thinner than ever.

Analysts and pundits will continue to use the term “netbook” but I’m going to argue that the device that we originally called the netbook is being phased out --- and thankfully so.

I have a netbook. It's small---9 inches---and it now belongs to my daughter. My hands are too big. The screen is too cramped. And I'm inclined to think that Jason's right. The netbook is just a passing fancy.

And then I follow the numbers. Look at all the people buying  netbooks. NPD's DisplaySearch reckons that netbook sales surged 264 percent in the second quarter from a year ago. Revenue for the overall notebook market declined. Here's the scorecard.

Meanwhile, check out Jason's talkbacks. It's a love affair---and they all couldn't be sent by the netbook fan club.

The special thing about it that makes me happy is that it's small and so handy. I don't need to play games or do lots of complicated things on the street. But this one is just 100% what I need and I will never give it up.

And.

I bought a Dell Mini 9 in 2008 and have never regretted it. It's small enough to carry in my purse, boots up quick, and maybe it’s because I have small fingers, but the size of the keyboard has never been an issue.

That said, it is not my main PC, nor would I ever try to make it such. I bought it to browse the internet and do some light word processing - the heaviest lifting I have ever asked it to do is stream movies across my wireless home network - and it has always performed flawlessly.

And.

I bought mine due to travel restrictions imposed by the airlines on a trip to Australia in 2008 and love it. I use a regular laptop/notebook as my main computer at home but it is too big and heavy to travel with. The Netbook allows me to use almost all my programs, some engineering, spreadsheets, topographic maps and GPS routings. I even use it at home with my wireless network, sometimes in bed at night while reading books on exploring Utah so I can see the topographic maps and the satellite pictures of the area. No it doesn't replace the desktop notebook but darn near.

Are these people bonkers? Nope. Intel's financial results---partially fueled by the Atom chip that powers these little devices---tell the tale.

Also see: All netbook reviews

Netbooks aren't for me, but apparently there are a ton of allegedly confused consumers still buying them. Dell and Microsoft have downplayed the netbook to some degree, but what else are they going to do? After all, the netbook is a margin killer.

So what's the future of the netbook? It's way too predictable to envision lightweight notebooks replacing the netbooks. Netbook 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 are likely to have different form factors. Perhaps the Droid and the iPhone are really your netbooks. Perhaps Apple redefines the netbook category with a tablet. Perhaps people keep buying the current versions of netbooks. Netbooks will hang around and probably thrive because people like second and third computing devices. The form factor may change, but the market niche isn't going anywhere.

More: Study claims netbook users dissatisfied with Windows 7. Are you?