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Hardware Technology

Technology Changes To Kill Netbooks? 394

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the natural-selection dept.
The BBC is reporting that the netbook craze may already be nearing the end of its run. Citing rising netbook prices and many other evolving technologies that can potentially fill that gap, some critics think that the limited power of netbooks will ultimately bring about the quick demise of the once popular device. "Ian Drew, spokesman for chip designer Arm, also believes netbooks are in for a shake-up. Consumers, he said, were chafing against the restrictions that using a netbook imposed on them. 'We have failed the consumer because we have imposed constraints on them,' he said. Changing web habits and greater use of social media will mean consumers will be looking for gadgets that are tuned to specific purposes. 'It will be a lot of different machines for a lot of different people,' he said. 'This whole market will be exploding in the next couple of years.' Impetus for this change will come, he believes, from the phone world where many, many types of gadgets are already blooming."
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Technology Changes To Kill Netbooks?

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  • Rising prices? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:00PM (#30615384)

    What's he talking about? The Wikipedia says the Eee PC was introduced at a price of $399 US. Taking a wander around the racks at the local electronics retailer suggests that the average netbook, which has considerably better specs than the Eee is priced around $300-$350 CAN, which some being as cheap as $250 CAN.

  • Not for a lot of us. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:06PM (#30615416)

    Mine (Acer aspire) was less than $300, is small and light enough to take along every day, and
    is powerful enough to support the work I do (sw development). All three are important for me
    to have my work with me all the time. Any more expensive and I'd think twice about taking it
    everywhere. At $300 if I loose it or break it it's annoying but easy enough to replace. Any
    bigger or heavier and I'd think twice about throwing it in my backpack every day. Any less power,
    or no keyboard, and I couldn't do my work. It's in the sweet spot for portable computing. Sure
    more battery time would be nice, but not at the expense of the keyboard, the power, or the
    manageable size and low cost.

  • by tacarat (696339) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:13PM (#30615482) Journal
    Part of the problem isn't the hardware.

    Many contemporary netbook models run Windows XP or Windows 7 which has forced the specifications, and price, upwards. Many, he said, now cost at least £350, a figure close to that for a more capable full-size laptop.

    I wonder if licensing costs will be enough of a factor to help edge linux back (or get manufacturer support increased) onto netbooks. It seems XP was ok, but I'm curious what the price difference is for a crippled windows 7 install. I've seen returns on those netbooks because the buyer couldn't change the background!

  • Evolving != dying (Score:4, Informative)

    by toppavak (943659) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:17PM (#30615504)
    It seems that netbooks in the 7-9" range have started to disappear, instead they've grown slightly (both in size and specs) to essentially have become 10" cheap laptops. I know many people that use them as machines to take while traveling (especially internationally) and even more people that use them as their primary portable (typically with a larger laptop or desktop relegated to, well, the desk). $300 for a small, durable laptop with more than enough performance to do word-processing, web browsing and watch movies on, most which get 5+ hours of battery life (depending on usage) is still an amazing deal.

    A good indication of their continuing success is the fact that 10" netbooks still account for 4 out of 5 of the top sellers [amazon.com] in the computers and accessories categories on Amazon.
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:21PM (#30615536) Homepage Journal

    Who waits for booting when you can just put the machine to sleep/hibernate when you're not using it?!?

    People who have to make do with broken device drivers that come out of sleep with no sound or (worse) no video. I've seen it happen in both Windows and Linux.

  • by Cheburator-2 (260358) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:26PM (#30615568)

    Exactly. Some people don't understand that netbooks fill exactly the same niche that Sony Vaio's filled before them: lightweight universal computers, but with display and keyboard large enough to be productive for the most computer task. "Universal" is important part here: some people would browse the web, others would write some documents, watch films, sort pictures from photocameras or even play games. I even have IDE installed and happily code while on the road. You cannot do that with smartphone!

  • by poetmatt (793785) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:31PM (#30615590) Journal

    the article should be tagged FUD, really.

    MS doesn't like netbooks because of a lack of margin, so they try to put out press whenever they can against the concept.

    In reality, netbook sales are WAY up [hothardware.com], which isn't a sign of them going down.

  • Re:Microsoft (Score:3, Informative)

    by nxtw (866177) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:32PM (#30615598)

    its limit of 32 MB of RAM per process

    CE 6 increased process address space to 1 GB

    For example, what CE web browser can display SWF objects?

    I was playing Flash movies on a Pocket PC five+ years ago in Pocket Internet Explorer.

  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:38PM (#30615628)
    You would not need to have a DVD drive if you could easily transfer the files to your disk, so you could playback the media.

    CDs and DVDs are overrated. A USB pen can store a lot more in a smaller form factor.

  • by symbolset (646467) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:42PM (#30615646) Journal

    The netbook is just the first of many. We got a nice device outside of the Wintel duopoly and people discovered that they loved it. Then the duopoly imivated their own version, locking down specs and defining it to be what they wanted it to be - in the process driving up the price and netting them a bunch of embarassing low-margin sales, but at least preventing the other guys from reaping the full benefit of their innovation. If OEMs want to create new things and keep control of the markets they create all that's needed is to avoid platforms Windows can run on.

    I think that OEMs are coming to understand that there is a market for any device that enables and empowers individuals to do new things - if it's portable and reliable and doesn't impose unnecessary restrictions. It's not really about the widget, it's about the people.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Friday January 01, 2010 @03:48PM (#30615692) Homepage
    Please don't use Bing. It didn't return any relevant results.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Friday January 01, 2010 @04:23PM (#30615912) Journal

    That's very true. That said, part of what makes the netbook so appealing is that the lack of processor power gives it the potential for battery life that wouldn't be practical with a faster CPU. I'd like a computer primarily for word processing, occasional light duty coding, etc. that I can carry easily with me on multi-hour airplane flights.

    Here's what I want in a Netbook:

    • Reduced footprint/display height for use on airplanes
    • Average of 12 hour battery life
    • Dual-core Atom CPU
    • A real desktop OS like Linux or Mac OS X that allows apps full access to the hardware, the drive, etc.
    • 256GB SATA flash drive from a reputable vendor.
    • Built-in flash reader that can handle BOTH CompactFlash cards and SD cards.
    • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
    • One USB port for the rare occasion when anyone needs it.
    • Wired ethernet.
    • FireWire 800 port so that its internal hard drive can easily be accessed from a desktop computer. Alternatively, eSATA would be okay if the silicon can be used bidirectionally.
    • Mini-DVI output because VGA is going away and I think it's only a couple bucks difference in silicon cost.
    • Software that makes it easy to rip DVDs on another computer and push them into the iTunes library on this device (or similar).
    • Full-size keys. Rearrange and shrink the modifier keys, backspace, return, esc, ~, |, etc. to cut half an inch off the width if needed. Push the keyboard out to the left and right edges of the top case.
    • No-border display. Why waste potential screen real estate on a black or white plastic border around the screen?
    • Small trackpad.
    • Removable battery. This might not be necessary if you could guarantee at least 8 hours with the CPU at full bore; with my current laptop, I can go through two "6-hour" batteries in an afternoon without much effort at all, mainly because several apps I use are written so badly.

    What I don't want:

    • Built-in camera for video conferencing (unless you can find a way to have one without adding a border around the screen).
    • VGA connector.
    • Optical drive.
    • Modem.
    • Soldered RAM or flash parts on the logic board.

    What I don't care about:

    • price point (within reason)
    • thickness (within reason)

    For me it's about portability and battery life. The problem is that every person you ask has different goals in a netbook. That's why it is important that there be a wide range of models with radically different characteristics. The only viable alternative to that is a handful of full-sized notebooks that try to be everything to everyone.

  • synopsis (Score:3, Informative)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Friday January 01, 2010 @05:06PM (#30616186) Homepage

    So basically, the article says netbooks are going to fail because of:

    * rising netbook costs
    * smartphones increasing in functionality
    * ARM preeminence on the horizon
    * specialized devices (ie Kindle and kin) serving people's needs

    Basically, what it boils down to, is "Netbooks are too expensive now due to Windows".

    Frankly, I think the article is full of crap. The netbook isn't going anywhere; in fact, I think we'll see netbooks getting more features in the coming year, reducing their cost and/or increasing their diversity. Namely:

    * That Pixel Qi or whatever screen which is viewable in direct sunlight we've been hearing about. Who needs a Kindle (for only $100 less) which is a crippled device, when you can get a full computer?
    * "Convertible" displays (ie tablets), again challenging the Kindle
    * Touchscreens

    Granted, if ARM based devices can get into the market in the sub-$300 range and have all of those above features, I don't see why they wouldn't be able to "compete" with Intel based machines - x86 Windows and x86 apps included.

    Personally, I've been waiting for better part of a decade for what is, essentially, a modern ARM tablet with a low-power display (loooong use) which is also similar to the NEC MobilePro 790 and/or 900. Might actually have a chance of that at some point. Surfing the internet from the top of a mountain after weeks of being there, via packet radio, would be so cool...

  • by DG (989) on Friday January 01, 2010 @05:27PM (#30616286) Homepage Journal

    The problem with convergence is that the more functionality you put into a given device, the more load you put on that device's battery.

    No single device - yet - has the ability to power all the various sub-tasks that we use these devices for and still maintain an acceptable level of readiness.

    My Palm Lifedrive (which was really ahead of its time) made a great ebook reader, GPS (using a bluetooth GPS receiver) PDA, music and audiobook listener, and a passable video device, gaming platform, and web browser. But all those functions drew on the same battery. And some of those functions (GPS and internet access) require radios to be active (Bluetooth and WiFi) and so they hammer the battery even harder than self-contained apps.

    When it is out of charge, you're dead in the water for all those functions.

    So now, I have an iPod for audio/visual. I have a Kindle for ebooks. I have an eeePC 901 for internet, general purpose computing, and gaming. I have a Garmin 765 for vehicle navigation and audiobooks. I have a PSP-Go for gaming (xmas present) And I have a phone for communications and emergency web access.

    Yes, that is a hell of a lot more devices to manage, and there is a nontrivial amount of mass in power adapters. In some ways, this is a step backwards. But by spreading tasks amongst devices, I ensure that I always have enough battery charge to do whatever task it is I want, when I want it. Or put another way, because I spread the power consumption amongst several devices, the likelihood of .any given device being charged up enough to carry out the intended task for the duration I want is very high.

    Another factor (which is related) is that device specialization means the device can be better tuned for the task at hand, and storage requirements aren't a zero-sum. I can have a lot of music and video in my iPod (it's a 160Gb) I can have a lot of books. I can have fully detailed maps of the world and a bunch of audiobooks. I can have lots of games. And I can have a workable keyboard! All this without having to rob Peter to pay Paul in a single device.

    Eventually, this will all get worked out. The iPhone unquestionably trumps my LifeDrive as a convergence device. I fully expect the 5th or 6th gen iPhone will have sufficient storage space and mature applications to fully take over the media, ebook, and quite possibly gaming functions, as well as be a serviceable personal GPS. But it will also have to be able to power these functions for at least 24 hours of use without recharging before it can fully replace all the other devices, and I don't think it will ever replace the general computing function of the netbook.

    DG

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 01, 2010 @05:47PM (#30616406)

    I believe TFA is talking about the Latitude ON technology at that point. Basically the Linux system is running on an ARM processor (and probably from an embedded flash, instead of HDD/SDD), while the Windows system runs on Intel processor (the laptop has both). It's hardly a fair comparison, but that's what you get for not having an ARM port of Windows.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 01, 2010 @06:32PM (#30616708)

    IMHO, I think devices will be done by form factor as opposed to functions. For example, a Kindle reader fits easily in the hand and has a decent screen for reading stuff for hours on end. Doing the same on an iPhone or a cellphone gets tiring on the eyes. A laptop is good for general computer use, although it can be argued that the desktop is the best form factor for computing at one location (large screen, decent ergonomics of where the keyboard and mouse go.)

    Each device has a place to be used. The Kindle form-factor is great for bedroom reading. However, it is too large to carry everywhere in a pocket like a phone, and too small for a complete laptop replacement. Similar with a smartphone that can be carried anywhere and do most tasks, but the small screen makes it tiring to use for constant jobs.

    Here is a given: The dedicated MP3 player is destined for oblivion as a mainstream device, just like the PDA. It won't disappear entirely as you can find a couple decent PDAs here and there, as well as the cheap brands at a drugstore. However, there will be no reason to pick one up for mainstream use. Once cheap cellphones (the low-end Nokias that are sold with a prepaid plan) start sporting the ability to play MP3s, that market is essentially dead, except perhaps for hard disk players with 100+ gigs of storage (which will be given a run for their money by 64GB flash devices.) The low end MP3 players will also exist, because people don't want to bring their main iPhone to the gym or their chainsaw fencing matches for fear of damage.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Saturday January 02, 2010 @12:12AM (#30619368) Journal

    I don't think we can just blame MSFT for this round o' FUD, I bet a lot of it can be traced back to good old chipzilla Intel. So see Intel thought they had their plan down cold: Make an uber-cheapo chip (Atom) and carve out a new niche to sell said cheapo chip (MID) and kick back and cash the checks while not hurting their laptop business nary a ta ta.

    Instead though what happens is the hardware manufacturers didn't go with MID (which according to the Intel vision was a cheap stylus based "browser in a box") but instead copied the idea of the OLPC and gave us cheapo netbooks with those chips instead which do compete with Intel's laptop chips, as there are many folks that spent big money on laptops that found they are quite happy with a cheap portable netbook. Now they not only have to deal with Atom cutting into their profits, they have AMD and ARM jumping into the game as well, which I'm sure has the guys at Intel ready to shit puppies. I think that is why they are coming out with Pine Trail, so they can use the Atom to at least put another nail in the Nvidia coffin by killing Ion.

    But I'm sure Intel can't be too happy right about now. Netbooks are up, laptops are down, and I just saw a nice row of AMD Neo based netbooks starting at just $450 at Walmart that do HD video and can even do light gaming thanks to the Radeon onboard. IIRC Intel put just as many restrictions on Atom as MSFT did, such as "no dual cores" in netbooks and keep the discount, etc. I wonder if they'll have to bite the bullet and lift those next year or try to steer folks away from buying their Atom chips in the hopes of selling them Core based devices? Because with ARM getting ready to drop the price floor out of netbooks, and Neo solving the "lousy video" problem it looks more and more to me that with Atom Intel may have made a boo boo. Once they opened the door and showed everyone that there was profits to be made I bet they will have a hard time just killing the netbook, especially now that their rivals have all jumped on board.

  • by BBF_BBF (812493) on Saturday January 02, 2010 @05:11AM (#30620744)

    Some people will still say that they can do all their basic stuff on a netbook, but when you can fork out an extra $100 and get something like a Dell 11z or 13z (Core 2 Duo 1.3GHz, 9 hour battery life), I really don't see the point.

    1. Dell doesn't make a 13z, it makes the 11z and 14z. 2. Only the 14z comes with a core 2 duo processor, the 11z only comes with single core processors 3. The 14z with dual core processor, 9 hour battery and crappy intel integrated graphics costs $789... Only $100 more than a normal netbook? In what dreamland? The 11z costs around $414 with a celeron processor and 6 hour battery, which is $100 ish more than a 'normal' pine trail netbook but its specs aren't much better than a normal netbook other than the processor.

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