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.