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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Netbooks Crash and Burn As Predicted

A year ago, I did a piece for Tom's Guide called Why Netbooks are Doomed. The op-ed piece was based on my own experience with netbooks and led to this parting shot: "If netbooks don’t die soon simply from evolutionary stupidity, smartphones will rise up from the seas to devour them." Most readers disagreed with me. One anonymous poster started with, "This guy is a complete idiot..." Another finished with, "It's lame biased opinions like yours that turn me off Tom's Guide."

Duly noted.

I admit I had my moments of doubt, especially when Paul Thurott, whom I respect immensely and read regularly, wrote in May of this year how netbooks were still thriving despite the iPad craze. He cited new numbers from IDC showing stratospheric growth projections for netbooks through 2013 alongside glowing remarks from the Wall Street Journal by way of NPD data.

Fast forward a few months, and now you have this:

CrunchGear deserves credit for its perspective on these numbers. Admittedly, the Morgan Stanley chart shows the total notebook market, of which netbooks are only a subset. However, netbooks were what spiked those notebook numbers a year ago, making them the "it" gift for a recession holiday season. So if notebook numbers are crashing now, at a time when the recession is allegedly over, it's fair to surmise that abysmal netbook sales can shoulder a large part of the blame.

My anticipation of the netbook's fall had nothing to do with the iPad and everything to do with ergonomics. The netbook was propelled by hype and price point. ASUS was in the right place at the right time and enjoyed more than a moderate dose of luck. In the end, though, you can't escape the fact that 10-inch screens in a clamshell form factor combined with a cramped keyboard are anything better than light torture for prolonged use.

This is not me wallowing in an I-told-you-so. (Not much, anyway.) This is me issuing a plea to vendors and buyers across the tech market to think twice before committing money to something so obviously unwieldy. Netbooks will not be the last uncomfortable craze we see in this industry. I just want to see fewer people get burned next time around.

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