Welcome to Netbook Nation

Once upon a time, the smallest mobile computers came with the most outrageous price tags. Those days are over. While you can still push a MacBook Air and a Dell Adamo beyond a few grand, the era of four-figure machines is drawing to a close.

Desktop sales are crashing, and laptops aren’t far behind. Suddenly, the cheapest machines also are the smallest. Whether they want to accept it, chipmakers and hardware vendors now live in a low-margin world. And PC buyers have new choices at their disposal.

Figures recently published by Gartner point to a change of demand in the client-machine market. Netbooks emerged almost out of nowhere in 2008, with 11.7 million sold. Gartner estimates this figure will almost double to 21 million units this year. Paired with an estimated 9.2 percent drop in overall 2009 PC sales, it’s clear we need to rethink why we buy certain machines and what we expect to do with them.

It’s easy to assume that netbooks’ popularity is being fueled by a recession-wracked market; however, demand has been building for years. Increasingly mobile-centric consumers and businesses are clamoring for devices that fill the gap between smart phones — highly portable, but still somewhat feature limited — and basic notebooks — fully capable, but still difficult to carry around.

Solutions such as the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) and the Mobile Internet Device (MID) have landed with a thud because, while they were largely able to bridge the size/mobility/capability gap, they cost more…



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