Apple is likely responsible for another factor in the decline of the netbook. In late 2010, Apple released a more affordable MacBook Air, replacing the original, pricey 13-inch model with lower-priced 11- and 13-inch models. The base 11.6-inch model costs $999. Taking note of the MacBook Air’s success, Intel developed the Ultrabook idea, a branded standard for very thin laptops. Manufacturers looking to build higher-margin products in the ultraportable-laptop segment, at least for the U.S. market, have turned to Ultrabooks. The jury is still out on the long-term success of Ultrabooks, but early reviews have been favorable.
A Limited Future for Netbooks
The netbook seems to be returning to its roots in the education market. Originally launched as a response to the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative, the netbook is once again targeting education, particularly in emerging markets outside the United States. But the rising tide of low-cost Android tablets may eventually swamp even that niche.
The netbook isn’t dead yet, but it’s clearly on its last legs--at least as a general-purpose, lightweight machine for Web computing. Tablets are filling that role for content consumers, low-cost but better-performing laptops are taking over for home users, and Ultrabooks (plus the MacBook Air) are taking the higher-end slots. The netbook may have a niche in certain markets, but its future is clearly limited and shrinking. Our advice: Don’t buy a netbook today, however attractive the price. You’ll just end up with a dead-end product.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.