Donate

Categories

Advert

XHTML

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

The Death of the Netbook

The Age has an interesting article about how Apple supposedly killed the Netbook [1]. It’s one of many articles with a similar spin on the news that the last two companies making Netbooks are going to cease production. The main point of these articles is that Apple decided that Netbooks were crap and killed the market for them by producing tablets and light laptops that squeeze them out of the market.

Is the Macbook Air a Netbook?

According to the Wikipedia page the Macbook Air [2] weighs 1080g for the 11″ version and 1340g for the 13″ version. According to Wikipedia the EeePC 701 (the first EeePC) weighs 922g and the last EeePC weighs 1460g [3]. The last EeePC produced is heavier than ANY Macbook Air while the first (and lightest) EeePC is only 158g lighter than the 11″ Macbook Air.

The 11″ Macbook Air is 300*192*17mm (979cm^3) in size while the EeePC 701 is 225*165*35mm (1299cm^3) and the biggest EeePC was 266*191*38mm (1931cm^3). So the 11″ Macbook Air is 13% wider than the widest EeePC but takes less volume than any EeePC. The 13″ Macbook Air is 325*227*17mm (1254cm^3) which is still less volume than any EeePC. The Wikipedia page about Netbooks defines them as being small, lightweight, legacy-free (in terms of hardware not software) and cheap [4]. The Macbook Air clearly meets all the criteria apart from price.

The Apple US web site offers the version of the 11″ Macbook Air with 64G of storage for $999 with free shipping, for comparison the EeePC 701 was on sale in stores for $500 in 2008. The CPI adjusted price for the EeePC 701 would be at least $550 in today’s money. The Macbook is a bit less than twice as expensive as the EeePC was, but that’s more of an issue of Apple being expensive – a few years ago companies like HP were also selling Netbooks that were more expensive than the EeePC.

Unless having an awful keyboard is a criteria for being a Netbook I think that the Macbook Air meets the criteria.

As an aside, a relative recently asked me for advice on a device that is like a Macbook Air but cheaper. Does anyone know of a good option?

Is Netbook Production Ceasing?

Officeworks currently sells an ASUS “Notebook” that has a 11.6″ display and weighs 1.3kg for $398, it’s got a metal body that looks a bit like a Macbook Air (which is the latest fashion and is good for heat dissipation). That’s not advertised as a Netbook or a “Eee” product but it’s cheap, lighter than the heaviest EeePC, and not much bigger than an EeePC.

It seems that the general prices of laptops other than Apple products (which have always had higher prices) have been dropping a lot recently. There are lots of good options if you want a laptop that costs $500 or less. Even Thinkpads (one of the most expensive and best designed ranges of laptops) are well below $1000.

Do the Articles about Netbooks Make Sense?

The claims being made are that Apple skipped Netbooks because they couldn’t make a good profit. This disregards the fact that the iPhone and iPad (which are very profitable) are in the high end of the price range that was occupied by Netbooks. While Apple does make a good deal of money from the iPhone App Market it would be possible to make a Netbook with a lower production price than an iPhone because making things smaller requires more engineering work and often more expensive parts. This also disregards the fact that there are a range devices which work as an iPad case with keyboard, an iPad with such a keyboard meets most criteria for being a Netbook, so Apple is one iPad keyboard device away from selling Netbooks.

It’s interesting to note that I haven’t yet seen an article about the profits from Netbooks which didn’t make an issue of the MS-Windows license fees. The first Netbooks only ran Linux but later on they switched to Windows, that had to make a big impact on profits. An article about Netbooks which just assumes that everyone has to pay a MS license fee is missing too much of the Netbook history to be useful. I wonder if anyone could make products that are as profitable as the iPhone and Macbook Air if they had to pay for MS license fees and design their hardware to work with MS software (as opposed to Apple who can change their software to allow a cheaper hardware design).

The articles also claim that Netbooks give a bad user experience. When I bought my EeePC 701 it was the fastest system I owned for loading OpenOffice, SSD random read speeds were really good (writes sucked but that didn’t matter so much). The keyboard on an EeePC 701 is not nearly as good as a full size laptop but it is also a lot better than using a tablet, I’ve used both a 10″ Android tablet and an EeePC as a ssh client and there is no comparison. When I’m going somewhere that requires random sysadmin work (or other serious typing) and I can’t carry much weight then I still take my EeePC 701 and I don’t consider taking a tablet. The low resolution of the screen is a major issue, but it’s about the same as a Macbook Air so that’s not an advantage for Apple. I knew some people who used an EeePC 701 for the majority of their work, I couldn’t do that but obviously some people have different requirements.

I now use my phone for many tasks that I used to do on my EeePC (even light sysadmin work) so my EeePC sometimes goes unused for months. But it’s still an important part of my collection of computers. It works well for what it does and I don’t feel any need to buy a replacement. When it wears out I’ll probably buy something similar to an 11″ Macbook Air to replace it unless there’s a good option of a tablet with a detachable keyboard.

My plans for computer ownership for the near future are based on a reasonably large Android phone (currently a Samsung Galaxy S3 but maybe a Galaxy Note 2 or similar next year), a small laptop or large tablet with hardware keyboard (currently an EeePC 701), a large laptop (currently a Thinkpad T61), and a workstation (currently a NEC system with an Intel E4600 CPU and a Dell U2711 27″ monitor). A reasonably small and light system with a hardware keyboard and solid state storage is an important part of my computer needs. If tablet computers with hardware keyboards replace traditional Netbooks that’s not really killing Netbooks but introducing a new version of the same thing.

But a good way of getting web hits on an article is to claim that a once popular product is dead.

13 comments to The Death of the Netbook

  • Andy Cater

    Ideal netbook – Lenovo Thinkpad x121e with after-market SSD ?

  • etbe

    Andy: It looks like a nice little machine, but at 1.54kg it seems a bit heavy for Netbook use. Using an after-market SSD MIGHT save a little weight, but not enough to make a difference.

    But thanks for the suggestion, my relative might be interested in that as they aren’t set on Netbook type use.

  • fab

    I had a MacBook Air v1 three or four years ago. The keyboard sucks, the touchpad rocks, the screen was quite good at this time.
    Unfortunately, ACPI was unsupported, the energy controller was buggy, and the hardware was of bad quality.

    Debian couldn’t run on it. It was freezing after a couple of minute of use. I had to force reboot (couldn’t even try the SysRq reboot) and then, the usb port was disabled. I had to stop the Mac and use the mac-magic-keys to force a reboot of the energy controller.

    If you add the fact that booting using dos emulation worked approximately every two times, and booting directly from efi messed up with the poor acpi support available in dos mode…

    If you add the fact that the webcam needs firmware from a MacOSX installation and an un to date extractor to retrieve it…

    Then, no, I will not consider buying Apple hardware as an alternative.

    For the record, the MacBook Air died of motherboard failure after I tried to install Ubuntu (which had supposedly better support for Macs).

    Fortunately, the warranty applied and I offered the Mac to a friend who didn’t mind using MacOSX…

  • Wouldn’t your “smartphone, tablet and netbook” needs be satisfied with something like an ASUS Padfone?

  • etbe

    fab: Some of these things are a matter of opinion. I also dislike the Apple keyboards and prefer the Thinkpad keyboards over any other laptop, but apparently lots of people disagree. I think that the TrackPoint on a Thinkpad keyboard is the best pointing device ever, but lots of people like touch pads.

    http://zareason.com/shop/UltraLap-430.html

    I agree that Apple hardware isn’t always as good as it should be, a vendor who produces matching hardware and software has more options for working around hardware bugs in software. But there are other vendors of similar systems. The ZaReason UltraLap 430 has a 14″ display and a mass of “~3.25 lbs” (a bit under 1.5kg) which is more than the 1.34kg mass of the 13″ Macbook Air. I am not aware of a company like ZaReason making laptops as light as the MacBook Air, I would appreciate a pointer to any such device.

    http://www.asus.com.au/Mobile/PadFone/

    Marcos Marado: Thanks for the pointer to the PadFone, I hadn’t realised that they apparently sell it with a keyboard dock. It sounds like an interesting device but I would rather have a separate phone. Sometimes I want to make phone calls while using a tablet. Also while having a tablet connect to a phone and having a tablet connect to a keyboard are both innovative and obviously useful, the combination of three items seems a bit unweildy.

  • The Netbook isn’t dead – it just needs a diet and regular exercise(?)
    It’s tempting to quote Mark Twain about the death, and your restraint is admirable.

    I suspect MS had more to do with the decline of the lightweight, true netbook. My theory would be that first generation of netbooks were dominated by ASUS with their EEE series; that they were designed with XP in mind; when MS, um, asked that XP be replaced with W7 the manufacturers couldn’t abandon their production runs so they put Linux on them; which lead to the extension of XP’s lifetime while the manufacturers moved to more expensive, higher powered designs capable of running W7.
    Of course mainstream media isn’t likely to propose that anymore than they’d suggest BillG isn’t the richest man on the planet – or that most of MS’s current offerings are dead men walking. The truth rarely sells, and apparently, inanimate objects are sexy (shudder).

    P.S. Many of my client’s first contact with Mac’s came with iPads – and all of them use those cheap bluetooth keyboards. So functionally they are netbooks, albeit less capable and minus a clam-shell. Certainly a lot cheaper than the cited Airbooks (which don’t last long in the field). Pedantic semantics?

  • etbe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_xp#System_requirements

    Scott: The EeePC 701 was released in 2007, service pack 2 for XP was released in 2006 so they would have designed it for that if they were designing for XP. According to Wikipedia XP with service packs 1 and 2 will be slightly over 3.9G. Presumably everyone who uses Windows wants to use MS-Office which would take it over 4G. So unless they were designing it to not have MS-Office (or any other application of any size) or designing it to not have all service packs from the previous year I don’t think that the EeePC 701 was designed for XP.

    I really doubt that MS would force manufacturers to ship Linux systems instead of XP, I expect that a manufacturer who was ready to ship Linux systems in 2007 could have got a really good deal on XP licenses…

    It’s interesting that so many people get their first contact with Apple via iPads and iPhones, it’s probably doing a lot to drive sales of Mac PCs and laptops. I’m surprised that Airbooks don’t last well in the field in your experience, they appear solid enough to me and the people I know who use them don’t seem to be reporting problems. But I admit I haven’t seen a statistically significant number of them in use.

  • Scott: The EeePC 701 was released in 2007, service pack 2 for XP was released in 2006 so they would have designed it for that if they were designing for XP. According to Wikipedia XP with service packs 1 and 2 will be slightly over 3.9G. Presumably everyone who uses Windows wants to use MS-Office which would take it over 4G. So unless they were designing it to not have MS-Office (or any other application of any size) or designing it to not have all service packs from the previous year I don’t think that the EeePC 701 was designed for XP. OEM and Linux SOE development lead-times make me suspect they were. I doubt ASUS developed the PC EEE without an OS in mind – though I strongly suspect they wanted it to be Linux, just hedging their bets with Windows XP. Which would be wise – much I love Linux it’s a gamble commercially for main stream device retailers. Android is changing that.

    I bought a number of 701SDs – they all came with the OEM(only EEE drivers) Windows XP Home SP2 – well under 3.9G. They were available with either Linux or XP pre-installed, which tends to suggest that’s also what they were designed for.
    And they were successful for ASUS. Other manufacturers released similar lightweight, smaller than laptop, devices – many of which ran Linux – because, as you’ve pointed out, a full SP3 and Office would neither fit, nor run faster than a pregnant cow on iceskates. Also SP2 had a lousy firewall and those devices simply wouldn’t run ZoneAlarm or similar. Particularly the 7x series which wouldn’t properly support a USB 3G device while Linux would (too resource hungry).
    This led to Linux being used – which led to MS extending the lifetime of XP (and probably offering ASUS a very nice price reduction).

    The 7x series of the EEE wasn’t designed to do much more than iPads and “smart phones” – browse the internet, basic email, multimedia playback. Office didn’t really come into it.

    2010/2011 saw the change from ASUS PC EEEs that could only run XP (or Linux) to machines powerful enough, and with large enough drives to run Windows 7. That pushed the price up above the impulse buy mark.

    Whether that was really the result of consumers as ASUS claimed, or MS, is debatable. My point really is that is had nothing to do with the Airbook.
    None of the retailers I spoke to at the time said they had problems selling the devices with Linux installed. And I was still buying demonstration model 701SDs until early last year – but I could only source them with Windows installed.


    I really doubt that MS would force manufacturers to ship Linux systems instead of XP,

    As do I.


    I expect that a manufacturer who was ready to ship Linux systems in 2007 could have got a really good deal on XP licenses…
    Possibly, though unlikely to be particularly relevant as; the devices would need to be be more powerful and have larger storage to use it; the devices would have short OS support lifetimes. So probably not particularly attractive from a manufacturers point of view. I also suspect, based on my dealing with MS, that you don’t get the best deal unless it’s an exclusive deal.


    It’s interesting that so many people get their first contact with Apple via iPads and iPhones, it’s probably doing a lot to drive sales of Mac PCs and laptops. I’m surprised that Airbooks don’t last well in the field in your experience, they appear solid enough to me and the people I know who use them don’t seem to be reporting problems. But I admit I haven’t seen a statistically significant number of them in use.
    Perhaps by “field” you mean “away from the office” where as I literally mean field :).
    iPads, which I dislike (I’m a keyboardist), work well in the field, come at a nice price, have a very low learning curve, and a very tolerant of dirt. Airbooks not so much of any of those things. But iPads did introduce many of the Joe Six-packs to the idea that Windows was not the only, or best game in town; led them to discover some alternatives ‘just work’ (without addon anti-malware programs and continual rebuilds); and introduced many people to computers.

    Please excuse the lengthy post – I’m in a hurry. Keep up the insightful posting.

  • Jonathan Wakely

    I still use my Eee 701 (running Fedora 15) daily, but have now got a Chromebook which meets my size and weight requirements and has a much better keyboard and screen, and much better battery life. It doesn’t meet most of my other requirements, even for a netbook, due to the limited functionality of ChromeOS. There is an SSH client that runs in the browser, but no way to use an ssh-agent so reentering passphrases gets tedious.

    As soon as I put the Fedora 18 ARM beta on an SD card I plan to take the chromebook everywhere with me instead of my eeepc.

  • Jonathan Wakely

    P.S. I forgot to say that, unless I’m mistaken, in the UK the cheapest Macbook Air is more than twice the (adjusted) price I paid for my eeepc, and I object to paying that much to fill the gap between my home desktop and my phone, no matter how shiny it is! I just want an SSH client with a keyboard, so the price of the eeepc and chromebook appeal to me, and the fact they came with Linux installed (even if I replaced it with another distro) helped win me over too.

  • etbe

    Scott: Thanks for the extra points, in future it would probably be clearer if you didn’t use quoting in blog comments though. I am surprised by your comment about Airbooks not being tolerant of dirt. A casual observation indicates that the Macbook keyboards (which feature rubber keys and presumably an entire rubber layer) would be more resistant to dirt than the Thinkpad keyboards (with separate keys that have plastic mechanisms) that I’m used to. Given the low incidence of failure of Thinkpad keyboards I’ve experienced in 15 years of fairly intense Thinkpad use I wouldn’t expect great problems with Airbooks. Of course anyone can stuff up a great design if they try hard enough, so maybe there’s some non-obvious design flaw in the Airbooks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromebook

    Jonathan: I would be very interested to see a detailed blog post from you about your Chromebook experiences. For casual readers the Wikipedia page is above.

    http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/chrome-os-devices/XE303C12-H01US-specs

    The lightest Chromebook is 1.1kg. That’s not an incredible jump in mass from the 922+g of my EeePC. The Samsung Series 3 XE303C12 Chromebook has a 1366*768 display (same as the 11″ Macbook Air) which is a lot better than the 800*480 display of my EeePC. So the hardware seems like a good replacement for EeePC hardware.

    It’s a pity that the Chromebook doesn’t run Android. I’d rather it be like my phone (which stores secret data on my behalf and makes no claim to be a multi-user system) than a cloud client. But really my main problem with this is ssh support. So I guess a solution would be to have a program on my phone to make it an ssh router. The Chromebook could connect by telnet to the phone which then establishes an authenticated connection to the remote host.

  • I suspect you’re looking at field work from an IT point of view. I’m referring to netbooks replacing paperwork – for that the 7x netbooks were/are great. They fit in a pocket, they’re cheap enough to break, but sturdy enough to rest actual paperwork on. Tablets/pads are even better for non-IT workers as they are very tolerant of mud and grease for workers who can’t (or won’t) always wash their hands.
    Thinkpads (pre Leveno) are great – but they’re not Toughbooks and fairly quickly die when the fans fill with dust.
    If a netbook fits in an the pockets of overalls – as the 7x series do, then it makes computers useful to a larger range of uses (and users). Laptop/netbooks – especially Airbooks tend to go missing when handed out to manual labourers. But as sub-$250 EEEs became hard to purchase I found Pad/Tablets nicely filled the gap – perhaps even better except for the size (won’t fit in pockets).

    Note the OS choices and Office reference.

    You mention $500 as an adjusted price for EEE… at the time (2010) that I started deploying them for clients (with Debian KDE) the determining factor was the price. Two days wages for the unskilled (labourer) end-users. Which meant it was viable to deploy to high turnover staff. The move to a design that supported W7 pushed the price up – and Airbooks have never been in that category. When narrow margin industries are reliant on unskilled staff to do lots of recording, netbooks and pad/tablets reduce the costs associated with trying to interpret records kept by the barely literate.

    Point taken on the quotes – I used the available tags, certainly not the expected effect. Preview’d be nice. I do dislike an ugly post, but, in time I’ll get over it. :-)

  • etbe

    http://rgeissert.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-death-of-netbooks.html

    Raphael Geissert wrote an interesting post in response to this one. He makes some good points about the utility of his EeePC.

    It is a bit sad that there’s nothing on the market which is clearly superior to his EeePC or mine.