UMPCs, MIDs, Netbooks, Mini-notebooks…the mares nest of new mobile form factors was going to get slimmed down by the market. It just had to happen…and I feel it has, or is happening as we speak.
I add my voice to several others of late and declare, with a few conditions, the Netbook form factor to be the winner of this small but fascinating battle to be the next big mobile device.
All sorts of bloggers and gearheads I respect are declaring MIDs and UMPCs technological also-rans over the last few days. Scrupulously honest, Jenn at Pocketables is giving the laurels to Netbooks despite her own personal preferences. Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun, one of the most insightful gadget hounds out there, is trading in his Samsung Q1 for a Wind. Even small form evangelist Steve Paine of UMPC Portal is praising the Akoya Mini. I personally agree with all of their views. UMPCs and MIDs are nice and cool and fun for gadget fans, but for the mainstream consumer they barely ever registered, totally overshadowed by Netbooks.
In fact, pundits all over the net who scorned all small computers as toys 6 months ago are now gleefully stating they have ordered Dell Mini 9s. Dell is NOT such a beloved company that brand loyalty alone could be causing this.
So where are all these conversions coming from?
Well, I see the following four factors tipping the scales in favor of Netbooks, with the tiny notebook form possibly going for the outright mobile win by Christmas.
- Technological Growth: Looking back at the tiny Eee 701 and comparing it to his descendents, it is clear that despite the inherant limitations, Netbooks have already developed far past their roots. Better processors, larger SSDs and HDs, more hardware features and improved screens all are part of the perception, real or not, that Netbooks are developing and maturing. MIDs? Not so much. Even if consumers are aware of them, there is very little difference to be seen in a MID/UMPC released a year ago and the newly announced models. Consumers like to know they have room to upgrade, and they like to back a winner…so they are going with Netbooks. After all, nobody wants to buy the last betamax.
- Familiar Form: Mainstream consumers have been becoming more and more comfortable with the notebook computer. Every year more and more studies tell us that notebook/laptops, which were once the exotic, underpowered and expensive tools of the sales road warrior or network admin are surpassing desktop computers as the form of choice when buying a new machine. Netbooks are essentially just smaller notebooks, so there is no learning curve for most consumers. They know basically how to use it, and what to expect from it. MIDs and UMPCs are still confusing hybrids to most people. Is it a tablet computer, is it a PDA, is it a really big iPhone? If a consumer can’t relate to a device, or feels uncomfortable with it, they won’t buy it..plain and simple.
- Variety: I often mock the sheer number of Netbooks that are currently for sale out there, but as far as the marketplace is concerned, that is a very healthy thing. Consumers like to have options, like to feel they can make choices, educated or not. In fact, there are so MANY different similar netbooks that consumer overload is a real danger. However, , too many options is a danger that MIDs and UMPCs would love to have to face. There are very very few of the devices available today, and many of the ones that have been announced never seem to actually take shape in the vapour. A vendor cant support and stock and sell a product that they don’t have. The shelf space lost by MIDs has been gained by Netbooks. Now that companies like Dell are in the fray, that shelf space won’t be relinquished anytime soon.
- Timing and Finances and OS: Netbooks are here, now. You can find at least a few models in every Best Buy and Circuit City from here to Juneau and then around to St. Petersberg. On top of that, there are Netbook models in price ranges that cover the spectrum, from as low as $99 up to around $600. MIDs are hard to find in stores, usually need to ordered via the net, and usually start at around a thousand, well beyond the price most consumers would spend for such a device. Add to that the fact that most Netbooks (despite the early prevalence of Linux) are available running XP. Most MIDs run a proprietary software, or Vista. More consumers know XP then any other OS out there right now, and despite the OS’s flaws, no one can deny it is the software of choice for mainstream consumers. They prefer machines that run it, since they already know how to use it and it is nice and familiar. To the average consumer Vista is daunting, Linux is out of the question and proprietary software seems strange and “imitation”…and so do the devices running those software systems. However small the computer, they KNOW XP.
There are many more factors that I feel have caused Netbooks to dominate the mobile computer market for the foreseeable future, but these are the keys. For a device to truly be a success, it has to win over mainstream consumers. Netbooks have done so with their development, their form, their availability, their variety and their familiarity, while MIDs and UMPCs likely never will. They will still be around, but like tablet PCs they will be a small niche, for enthusiasts and those who specifically need the advantages they bring. For most people looking for a small computer these days, they look at Netbooks. They may ooh and ahh at the cool looking Lenovo Ideapad or Samsung Q, but it will be the Netbook they take home, nine times out of ten.
Now hopefully MID and UMPCs developers like Intel will take up this gauntlet and bring us exciting, innovative and affordable devices in the coming year. For now however, viva la Dell Mini, Asus Eee and MSi Wind…for the win.