Wednesday, February 08, 2012

First World Myopia

I've been hearing and reading a lot about this year being the death of the Netbook, and the rise of the Ultrabook and tablet. To say I'm dismayed is an understatement. Why? Several reasons:

  • As we move more of our data and efforts into the cloud, high powered computing devices become even less relevant. Netbooks are slightly underpowered compared to Ultrabooks, so switching to Ultrabooks is counter intuitive.
  • We say "tablets," but we really mean "iPads." Apologies to the dozens of Android tablets, but those are hardly a blip in the market, compared to Apple's purpose built artful device. But the iPad is not quite there: you still need it to talk to a PC for some functions, and it's interface, for all of its ease of use, is still too simple for real business use. A great niche device, surely, but not yet a PC replacement. Once Windows 8 hits, with it's native tablet interface, we may be nearly ready.
    • Case in point: I started this post on my iOS device, but the app would not support hyperlinks; I needed a PC for that. Sure, you can blame it on the app, but the reality is the full web experience offers no such version issues, and full functionality. I can get that with a PC, not an iOS device.
  • Let's be real: the issue here is a stunning "First World Problem" of price. Netbooks average less than $300; tablets and Ultrabooks are double that. In the case of tablets, you need to add $ for a keyboard, to replicate the computer experience, as well. And for what? A Netbook has the same screen size as a tablet, so it can't be the argument of "cramped size." The battery on a Netbook will often outlast the Ultrabook, so it can't be the famous "but what about the plane?" argument. 
If you look at the evolution of the market, it points to the need for a small, lightweight, cost-effective PC, that can serve as a sort of "big brother" for tablets, storing and sharing the media with them. A device that allows you to run full browsers and full applications as needed, and have a real keyboard to handle the real work. One with a real hard drive, and whose screen can be safely closed away from fingerprints and obvious damage. The devices that the ecosystem make obsolete? Desktop PC's, and most laptops. Yes, there are niche markets: gaming, graphics production, etc., but for the mainstream, the Netbook seems the right device for the right market. Dropbox, Evernote, and more make the PC just another extension of the cloud; having one that costs twice as much, or relying on a dumbed-down interface tablet, makes no sense.

Netbooks and tablets: they are for the 1%. Until they come down in price and functionality, enjoy the long life of the Netbook, and the gasps of the PC manufacturing business while they try to desperately invent a new niche. Think this is new? Look at TV manufacturers: they are doggedly cramming 3D as a "must have" feature of your TV, but this time, the consumers aren't buying it. Sony, who made it their linchpin, is having some of the worst TV sales ever.

Now, I say this as an owner of several PC's, a netbook, and several iOS devices: I have the consumer cred to back my assertion. Ultrabooks will look cool, yes, and if that's what you are after, hop into your Tesla, and sneer at the Occupy protesters as you whiz by on your way to your private heliport. Tablets are fun, but find yourself trying to assemble a presentation you need to give as you disembark the plane you are on, and you'll consider beating the guy in the middle seat for his Netbook. Windows 8 and lower prices may change this, but we're not there...yet.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Honestly I'd really rather see a more robust tablet right at the moment than a better end point device. The last system I purchased (or rather that Corey and I built) was a desktop. It was admittedly a huge leap for me since I've been lugging laptops around for years now.

But now I've got my desktop at home, my behemoth laptop permanently parked at the office and I use my iPad as my transitional device. I use "the cloud" and my phone to hold my data so it's accessible wherever I go.

The problem for me comes in lack of syncability (yes I just made that word up) between the whole mess. The iPad doesn't play very well in the Microsoft schoolyard. I'm tempted to jump into a Droid tablet but then I fall into the hands of Google's plans for world domination and similar issues with Microsoft not wanting to play nice with the Google boys. I could convert my systems to Linux I suppose but my geekiness has waned as my age ticks past 40.

It would be nice to simply carry the tablet of my choice around and plug it in to whatever workstation is nearby and have them all play nice together.