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The netbook isn’t dead — it’s just resting (time.com)
39 points by technologizer 1634 days ago | hide | past | web | 46 comments | favorite

The article touches on it lightly, but the real reason you can't say netbooks are dead is that the entire concept of a "netbook" was bullshit from the very beginning. Manufacturers wanted to put some pressure on their suppliers to lower prices, so they invented a category of low-price and low-quality laptops. Consumers never really paid that much attention, because anyone who actually picked up a netbook could tell that they were garbage.

Turns out that selling low-quality computers for cheap and making up the difference on volume is a difficult business model to make profit in. Now the manufacturers want to chase Apple by building "ultrabooks", which is marketing-speak for "laptops that aren't complete shit". But Apple is years ahead because they didn't waste time on netbooks, and they've got their logistics so optimized that they can make a fat profit on prices that would leave other manufacturers taking a loss on each sale.

You'll know that PC manufacturers have figured out how to correctly apply the Apple model when they:

* Stop plastering their products with advertising stickers.

* Trim their product lines back to the core (How many laptop models does Dell sell? How long did it take you to figure out?)

* Invest in build quality and reliability, potentially at the cost of end-user repairability.

Netbooks don't strike me as garbage at all. I have a desktop (well, more of a desk-holder-up since it's a tower) and that's what I use for any kind of processor-intensive work. When I'm mobile, I don't want to do anything more complex than editing a document, and I don't need an expensive high-powered laptop for that.

Come to that, a typical netbook configuration of some atom-style processor and 2gb of memory is not that bad - that would have been a high-powered machine 8 or 10 years ago and with an SSD it's pretty nippy.

Invest in build quality and reliability, potentially at the cost of end-user repairability.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I've also gotten a lot of use out of my netbook. Small, long battery life, and can do just about everything my desktop/laptop can. All for $300 (a price point I could never imagine seeing from Apple). I can see that they're not for everyone and for many consumers tablets may be a better choice, but for me the netbook was cheaper and I could do more with it.

I think the main reason netbooks are considered garbage by many is that they decided to cram Windows XP into underpowered machines, which meant a horribly slow laptop with poor battery life, with the only advantage being that it was small and cheap.

For me, a netbook replaced a $2000+ Fujitsu subnotebook which ran Linux. It was fast enough to run a web browser and most of the CPU intensive work (compiling etc) was done on a remote server anyway. The build quality was actually about the same, the main difference was the lack of an optical drive (which I didn't need anyway).

I sold my iPad 1 four weeks after getting it and bought a netbook. Still using it today. It's a real computer, does real work, and was a great bargain—none of which was true of the iPad, then or now.

I can't help but notice you don't mention what "real computer", "real work" and "great bargain" mean to you.

I type fairly fast, so a keyboard is a big time-saver for me. I work in many popular file formats, Office, etc, that I can't do much very easily with on a tablet.

So "real" means a keyboard and software that fully handles common work files.

It was less than half the cost of the iPad, a great bargain by comparison.

The "netbook" concept was not bullshit at all. It was the first inexpensive small laptop. The EEE PC which coined the term netbook, was inspired by / a response to the OLPC XO-1.

The price was achieved not primarily by lowering quality but by replacing Windows with Linux, a hard drive with a small flash storage, and by using an underclocked processor and dropping the optical drive.

Other laptop makers merely followed suit as soon as the saw that the EEE PC was a huge success.

Laptops were cheap and crappy long before netbooks appeared.

I'm a very reluctant laptop user, I don't like them one bit. They're expensive, they break and then you can't get the parts or you can barely service them yourself.

And yet I love my little acer aspire one. It's been all over the planet with me, has taken considerable abuse. Does 3G out of the box and even after some years of pretty hard use still has ample battery life (but that must be luck because I keep reading bad stories about the batteries). It absolutely refuses to be killed, believe me I tried.

I definitely would not call it garbage, though this may well be an instance of survivor bias. I run ubuntu NBR on it (an old one, it just works so I didn't bother upgrading it) and I would not trade it for a larger laptop or a tablet. I haven't been this satisfied about a computer since I had a compaq aero. Which I think qualifies as the original netbook (ok, you'd have to add pcmcia ethernet for that and it would be terribly slow).

The garbage netbook market hit a sweetspot for me. I haven't had a real laptop since I got rid of my iBook G4.

I also like the fact that I don't have to care if my laptop gets lost or stolen. I look forward to less power-hungry complete-shit laptops in the future. (I take the stickers off of mine).

I'm not sure where you are getting you impression from but the non technical-professional people I know (including students, young professionals and other "target market" people) all seriously consider and sometimes buy a <350euro, "netbook." They travel well, look cute and mostly do everything people need them to do.

The things to copy from Apple is not the sticker policy or the price or any other specific. What (some, not all) companies could copy is principles. "Insist on a high margin and take risks to build products that can command them." It's not the only good strategy out there. Others (eg Samsung) are doing great work with a value-for-money-at-the-higher-end strategy.

Netbooks are very useful devices. A lot of people around me have netbooks. Basically everyone who needs to produce (not just consume) on the go. Think students. I don't see how netbooks can be either bullshit or dead. And they are fine qualitywise. You get what you pay for. They have awesome bang for the buck.

anyone who actually picked up a netbook could tell that they were garbage

I'm going to skip a lot of things I am inclined to say, and end with two observations (as someone who hopped onto the "netbook" train right at the start):

* The 7" screen of the original Eee 701 was indeed pretty much too small

* The 10" screen of later generations was perfectly fine, except I started using the netbook as my primary computing device at which point it was not fine. (Netbooks are not primary computing devices; the fault was mine)

Invest in build quality and reliability, potentially at the cost of end-user repairability.

Have you used a ThinkPad? Reliability, quality and repairability.

Only apple have managed to destroy the concept of repairability. Even no brand Chinese clone junk is pretty repairable.

Apple are trying to force a disposable model on computing which is completely not justifiable based on their initial cost.

I deal with a lot of no brand Chinese clone junk, and I can attest that one guy from Xinjiang with a soldering iron and a few screw drivers can fix any of it in the basement of one of the e-markets here (in China). It works for about a week, and degrades depending on how often it is repaired.

In contrast, when my Apple laptop breaks under warranty, I have to trek to the Apple store, they repair, it never breaks again. You never really get it until you own one on why this is so awesome.

I doubt that happens any more. The whole unit will get swapped out instead. They are not repairable. Everything is glued in and not removable.

I've had a fair amount of apple kit - I've found it to be hideously unreliable, clunky and of dubious design. Detail things such as power isolation is not possible which bit me hard after I had an MBP catch fire just out of warranty.

I don't buy the whole quality argument. Its a perception - not a reality.

I don't know what they do if you ask for a battery replacement or when something's wrong with the SSD, but changing a display on my 2011 MacBook Air was a matter of 20 minutes. I'd be very surprised if you couldn't at least replace the moherboard.

Which, by the way, is the only type of repair the other laptop manufacturers ever offered to me.

They probably replaced the lid assembly whereas most vendors you can replace the panel with little effort (I did it on my ThinkPad in 30 minutes with the wrong tools for the job :)

Considering the SSD and battery have the shortest lifespan of all components I can't fathom why they decided to make them non replaceable. Even in worst case scenarios, it's a recyclers nightmare.

You really don't have a clue what the rest of the OEMS are doing. Anything at the ultra book level is essentially two pieces. Your huge mega laptops are still user serviceable (like a bricky T class), but not say....a carbon.

Oh 100% I do. The best selling is the cheapest Chinese crap still, followed by the mega laptops followed by the ultrabooks.

Outside Starbucks and excessively middle class areas, cheap is king.

I find it unlikely that other manufacturers would take losses if they charged Apple prices; Apple prices tend to be substantially higher.

Funny - the other day I showed a friend the top-of-the-line SAMSUNG Series 9 Ultrabook, which outspecs and outclasses Macbooks, but is slightly more expensive - guess what he said? "But at this price, you could get a Macbook!"

Yup. Whenever someone says "OMG Macs are so much more expensive than PCs!" Then you look online for a comparable PC laptop, find it....and its more expensive...always. Apple just does so well on logistics the other OEMs are crying.

I have my eye on a Carbon right now for work, its only a few hundred dollars more than a 13" air but work won't by macs.

The X1 Carbon is actually going for a little bit less than the 13" Air, at least for the base model of each.


Ironically, I have to buy in china where they are apparently still more expensive. And then throw in the touch.

aviraldg didn't say it was comparable, he said it outspecs and outclasses the macbook.

yup yup


I got a netbook with an atom for $250-ish dollars just about 4 years ago and still can't find anything under $400 dollars that's enough of an improvement to make it worth replacing.

The crap SSD long ago died so my machine now runs LXDE off of a USB key, but it's still chugging. Still even gets 4 or 5ish hours of battery life which is pretty damn amazing after sitting around that long.

I keep thinking at some point someone will make a 12" cheap device with a day's worth of battery and maybe keep it completely fanless.

But no. The only thing remotely close any more are chromebooks, which lack the hard Linux features that make my netbook so useful. Unfortunately everyone else just price gouges you for something with an i3 that mysteriously costs $600.

As for Ultrabooks... they are HEAVY. Every time I see one I think they look great until I pick one up and it weighs ~ 2.5 times what my netbook does. Go figure... One of the things I love about my netbook is that I can hold it up with hand all day.

In any case, I don't think they're dead. Marketers just figured out how to label them ultrabooks and get an extra few hundred dollars.

I believe Netbooks will be seen as a very important development in the evolution of computing devices. The early Netbooks focused on a small, portable form factor which also had an extremely long battery life. Hardware was mostly from the previous generation and the default OS was an open source Linux variant. Yet, it was good enough for most people.

Certainly, Microsoft and Intel would hate the creation of such a category which would hurt their margins significantly. In fact, Asus was forced to sell Windows only netbooks after a point in time.

But at least now the customers know that such a long running, ultra portable and cheap device is possible. This, I believe, was a big achievement.

I'm experiencing a small personal 'netbook revival' myself, with the recent hacking of a Motorola Lapdock to accomodate small miniPC's like the MK802 and so on .. you can see a picture of it here:


The cable mess is ugly as hell, but after the New Years break I'll get a bit more time to design and build a better solution for the mess using a local 3d printer and laser cutter.

My hope is that I can modify the device so that it will be possible to just simply plug in any one of the hundreds of new miniPC devices that are being released, it seems, almost daily.

Of course, I'm also avidly waiting for Motorola (or someone) to just make a lapdock that makes my hardware hacking redundant - but I don't predict that this will catch on for another 3 to 4 months, yet. And in the meantime, 5 hour battery life on the Lapdock+MK802 combo that I'm currently running is really nice.

In fact, I'm grandfathering my Macbook Pro as a result of this work, and will turn it into a desktop build server only for the task of running xcodebuild ..

Netbook is still here. Samsung and Acer still make them. They're called Chromebooks. They only run the internet. They are small. They are cheap. They have the word book in the title.

The netbook is dead, long live the netbook!

Tablet + keyboard cover docking station is just an overpriced netbook. And this combo is on the rise - people want to be able to do real stuff on their devices, when you have so much computing power always with you. And for that you need screen space and keyboard.

Yup. I have not found a better input device than a keyboard for general computing. Touch screen is nice, but when you have to do real work, it's worthless. I don't even want to imagine the repetitive stress syndrome injuries that are going to come from tablets and touch screens.

People think this industry is easy and simple, but they fail to see the injuries even an 8 hour a day computer job causes. And you can't put it on worker's comp either.

Fucked and fucked. That's why I prefer to move my fingers as little as possible (glued to keyboard) and when necessary use a trackball like the Logitech M570 and precursors. Without that, I'd be a garbageman with a bad arm.

The tradeoff netbooks promised was lower price in exchange for more limited performance, and the Atoms at the time were the right fit for that niche. Eventually, though, as more mainstream processors got cheaper, it started to make less and less sense to keep those lines going...

But lots of mobile chips now occupy this exact same price/performance space: very cheap, and not especially performant, but good enough to surf the web. We've already seen some ARM laptops, and I expect to see more in the next year, occupying the former-netbook market position. So far it's just been Chromebooks, and I have some skepticism of the viability of the ChromeOS platform in the long term, but the hardware can continue in that direction regardless of the software (my money would be on either WinRT or a slightly desktop-ified Android).

"I have some skepticism of the viability of the ChromeOS"

Lol. Ya think? I give it a couple more years at best. Some things just can't be done as web apps. Well, at least until someone figures out not only how to make fiberoptic cables perform at the full speed of light, but beyond. Think audio/video latency, etc.

I quite like netbooks, having been initially sceptical about them. As a note taking device they're hard to beat. Tablets just aren't as convenient because you have to faff about with external keyboards and trying to get the screen at the right viewing angle. Also netbooks have the edge over tablets in terms of being able to install a wider variety of linux based operating systems.

I've am currently using a 11" HP dm1 3016 (just a grade above netbook), and I refuse to believe people do not find value in netbooks. Yeah, they may be underpowered, but are usable for most tasks that an average user needs to do, mostly web browsing and facebook, watching 720p movies, using MS Office, and a long backup (~7-8 hrs after 1 yr).

Heck, I've been developing for Android on Eclipse, working on Spring MVC app, Play 2.0 projects and doing graphics work on Adobe Photoshop on this laptop since I bought it in Dec., 2011. Attached a 24" display to the HDMI port when needed. Planning to upgrade to SSD, and it will last me a few more years. What it cost me, around INR 20k (~$400).

I guess what netbooks need is an upgrade to a minimum 1366x768 display (which is why I bought the dm1 and not a 10" netbook) and an AMD E series Fusion grade processor.

Android is leaking all over the place. Into consoles, TVs, Cameras. I may be naive, but it seems to be just a few small tweaks and a few dozen good apps from being a better-than-chromeOS netbook OS.

Android (or some other tablet/mobile OS) might eat the netbook market.

With Microsoft Surface kind of design, where you have keyboards "only when you want"; netbook's are dead.

And for real work, they are necessary.

11" MB Air. Nowhere close to $500, but you shouldn't expect that. No, it's not dead, and it's not resting.

The best use of a netbook is as a bedbook - it's the laziest way of surfing the web, just balance it on a thin pillow on your chest, attach a trackball mouse, and you can burn almost no calories for hours on end!

So if we redefine the term "netbook" from 'small, shitty, cheap laptop' to 'small, cheap laptop' then "netbook" sales were really always super healthy.

Congratulations on achieving your word count, please stop.

Replace cheap with expensive and you have the modern craze: ultrabooks.

Yup. Might as well get a Mac, though these days the hardware only looks tough but is quite flimsy. Still better than the plastic shit everyone else puts out, but if I can mess up a fan by simply picking up the laptop ... damn consumer devices.

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