June 5, 2009, 10:15 pm
You say potato I say; are we really talking about this? At Computex this week we saw two new computing ‚Äúcategories‚Äù created. It has long been marketing 101 in the high tech world to try and define a category of computing based on metrics that favor your own particular market position of unique feature set. That is what is going on today in the great netbook/smartbook/low-cost small notebook PC debate. Let‚Äôs look at each of these and try and sort this out.
First, starting with ‚Äúnetbooks‚Äù you have what is essentially a ‚Äúlow-cost small notebook PC‚Äù but is much easier to say. Asus and Intel pioneered the use of this term in conjunction with the Eee PC and Atom processor respectively. Netbooks are generally a portable low cost PC with a smaller screen size used for accessing the internet and media consumption. Lately, however, most ‚Äúnetbooks‚Äù are considered fully functional PC‚Äôs capable of being a real productivity tool. My hunch is that the netbook name is the one that will stick. It is easy to remember and sounds so much better than ‚Äúcheap PC.‚Äù
Secondly, this week Qualcomm came out with the term ‚ÄúSmartbook‚Äù referring to small low-cost notebook PC‚Äôs that have smart phone features such as always on 3G wireless, push e-mail, instantboot, etc. This is a clever term for Qualcomm to illustrate its strengths as they cross over from the wireless device market into the PC market place. Their marketing folks deserve full credit for a ‚Äúsmart‚Äù idea. We‚Äôll see if the term catches on, but it is tough to be second in the category creation game and Qualcomm got beat to the punch by the netbook term over a year ago.
Finally you have poor Microsoft‚Äôs rejection of both categories in favor of the term, ‚Äúlow-cost small notebook PC.‚Äù No surprise since the netbook/smartbook market is terrible for their business. The last time they used the term ‚Äúnetbooks‚Äù was in an earnings announcement where they stated, ‚Äúclient revenue declined 8% as a result of PC market weakness and a continued shift to lower priced netbooks.‚Äù
Nick Mediati at PCWorld said it best, ‚Äúby Microsoft‚Äôs logic, ‚Äúsmart phones‚Äù should be renamed ‚Äúpocket-sized handheld computing devices‚Äù since smart phones today do so much more than make phone calls and handle your appointment calendars. And ‚Äúgame consoles‚Äù? More like ‚Äúhome theater multimedia playback and gameplay consoles.‚Äù To arbitrarily change a product category‚Äôs catchy, memorable name to something ridiculous and jargony seems to make no sense at all.‚Äù
Walking around Comptex there is was one point of common ground in the debate. Whether you say potato, potahto, Moblin or Android, with the cost of these PC‚Äôs trending toward less then a couple hundred bucks we all say goodbye to expensive OS licensing and hello to Linux.