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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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).
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).
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.
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)
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.
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'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.
Which, by the way, is the only type of repair the other laptop manufacturers ever offered to me.
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.
Outside Starbucks and excessively middle class areas, cheap is king.
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 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.
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.
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 ..
The netbook is dead, long live the netbook!
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.
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).
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.
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 (or some other tablet/mobile OS) might eat the netbook market.
Congratulations on achieving your word count, please stop.