In a piece that casts doubt on the future of the (sigh) “netbook” market, Matt Richtel curiously provides quotes from Sony Electronics and Fujitsu, two of the more successful companies selling high-end ultraportables in the U.S., but doesn’t include any quotes from companies that have actually launched these products here, including HP and Asus.
It’s not surprising that Sony and Fujitsu would be relatively down on inexpensive ultraportables because their products are the most immediately threatened by inexpensive notebook PCs with small screens. Really, though, they needn’t worry, because anyone willing to invest $1,500 or more for a high-end ultraportable isn’t going to downgrade to this product.
In other words, at least in the UI.S., netbooks are about market expansion at a time when consumers are going more mobile. HP at least is thinking about these products in the right way, targeting students and other select demographics who need light computing on the go. Is that 10 percent of the notebook market for the next two years? Probably not. But as Tim Bajarin aptly notes in the Times piece, when you are at the scale of an HP or Dell, you’re not going to surrender shelf space or mindshare to an unknown Asian upstart.
It’s all well and good to pursue margin, but there’s no margin in a market that doesn’t yet exist. While we will see barebones Linux configurations for $300 or $400, more of the market is going to be closer to $500 or $600 where major manufacturers move plenty of Windows notebooks, many of which have at least some higher component costs.
This fall, we’re going to see a lot of activity in this market.. it’s going to get pretty bloody fast. And to be clear, the space between the smartphone and notebook PC has been a difficult one to fill. But it’s very difficult to ascertain the true potential of this device because their real opportunity is in a world of integrated, affordable broadband wireless access, an evolution of the explosive growth notebooks saw after Wi-Fi became popular.