But we knew enough to realize you were never a viable choice. Netbooks, the diminutive laptops so popular only a few years ago, are going the way of the dinosaur per a recent post at MacRumors. According to the post the last major manufacturers of netbooks, Asus and Acer, will end their production lines in the first quarter of FY 2013. Sales have slumped to practically naught, extinguishing what many pundits thought was the next wave of computing.
It wasn’t that long ago that Apple was lambasted for their staunch refusal to produce a netbook of their own. It was thought the light, portable and inexpensive netbook would offer a gateway to to the digital age for many consumers that didn’t want or need the power of a full fledged laptop or desktop. Apple’s adherence to high margin products was deemed at odds with the will of the market. What these doomsayers missed was that the popularity of netbooks wasn’t due to the mini laptops hitting a bullseye of unmet demand, it was merely the ripple of a near miss.
The issue is best summed up by Steve Jobs himself: “The problem is that netbooks aren’t better at anything. They’re slow, they have low-quality displays, and they run clunky old PC software. So they’re not better than a laptop at anything, they’re just cheaper.” Netbooks were more portable than regular laptops, but provided this at the expense of user experience. Netbooks were notoriously wimpy, struggling to multitask with the simplest of programs. They ran either an old operating system (XP), a limited one (Windows 7 Starter), or something that confused/alienated too many users (various versions of Linux). They simply didn’t offer anything new, just the same old in a smaller, less functional form.
Enter Apple’s answers: first, the MacBook Air. The most successful ultraportable offers all the power of a regular laptop in a svelte, minimalistic form. The current models are a fantastic mix of power and portability, and while competitors have finally started innovating, they still haven’t quite caught up with the Air.
Then the coupe de grace- the iPad. For consumers that wanted internet access but didn’t need a full laptop it was a perfect answer. Right out of the gate the iPad excelled at several tasks, especially media consumption. As iOS has matured the uses for the iPad have exploded, from communication to productivity to finance. I’ve been able to completely replace my laptop with an iPad and third party Bluetooth keyboard (first a Zagg Folio, lately replaced by a Brydge Plus).
I had a few chances to toy with various netbooks, from Asus to Dell, and my initial fascination sparked by a new gadget was quickly cooled by how clunky they felt to use. Even those that find Apple’s products too expensive or restrictive have better options- Android tablets have made drastic improvements since their introduction, and can be had far less expensively than a netbook.
Thanks to the innovation of Apple, creativity of their third party accessory and app developers, and the innovation of Android device manufacturers consumers simply have better options for every reason someone might consider a netbook. Good riddance to bad tech, I say.