Remember a few short years ago when Netbooks were all the rage? Pundits and publications both tripped over themselves to proclaim the tiny and inexpensive mini laptops to be the future of computing. Apple and then-CEO Steve Jobs were panned for refusing to develop a netbook, Mr. Jobs going to far as to claim that Apple couldn’t produce “…a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”
Fast forward to today: Toshiba announced that they will be exiting the rapidly failing netbook market, citing tablets and ultra books as the future. The failure of netbooks has been chronicled by several sources, from Consumer Reports’ article questioning if netbooks are dying as a category to PC Perspective’s retrospect on the overhyping and eventual failure of the Atom processor. Dell saw the writing on the wall back in 2011 and exited the market, and Samsung has been rumored to have ceased producing units with 10″ screens common in netbooks.
It’s common thought that netbooks suffered greatly with the introduction of the iPad. While the iPad’s OS isn’t as open as what usually runs on netbooks (WinXP, the ‘starter’ version of Win7, or various flavors of Linux) those limitations allow for a better overall user experience. Accessories can provide the same physical keyboard as netbooks if the user needs one, and the iPad (even in a case) is sleeker and lighter, with better battery life.
I’ve had very poor experiences with netbooks. While I never owned one, I have repaired a few for friends and coworkers and found the devices to be teeth-gnashingly annoying to use. Underpowered, slow, and bulkier than just about any competing device; netbooks have just one competitive advantage- price. Even this one advantage is being eroded by falling laptop prices; an entry-level Dell Inspiron can be had for $399, not much more than many netbook models but offering more power, a full sized keyboard, and an optical drive.
While I’m sure netbooks will be around for a few more years, I believe the category has already started its death spiral. Between ultra books like Apple’s MacBook Air or tablets consumers simply have too many superior options to keep netbook sales viable.