The popularity of netbooks continues unabated, but the devices are still seen as complementary to PCs and are not yet eating heavily into laptop sales, according to new research from Forrester.
The analyst firm's Netbooks Remain Adjunct PCs ... For Now report highlights how the netbook is one of the first PC-type devices to be driven initially by consumers, and how they have evolved substantially in the 18 months since their inception.
However, the report indicates that, while netbooks are currently an adjunct to existing PCs, they may well begin replacing them in certain environments in the future.
"Forrester believes that the device that falls between mobile phones and full laptops is here to stay, although the term 'netbook' may disappear," said Forrester analyst and report author Paul Jackson.
"Netbooks' value proposition and associated business model look likely to change just as much as their terminology in the next 20 months."
The research revealed that the netbook is still largely viewed in the US and Europe as a complementary device for on-the-go use, or as a PC for use by children in the family. Only around one in five consumers have bought, or are thinking of buying, a netbook instead of a full blown laptop, according to the research.
Jackson explained that, although netbooks are still seen largely as an early adopter device, they will change rapidly in terms of technology and business model.
Intel's Atom processor has been at the heart of most netbook devices, but Forrester said that ARM-based systems from the likes Qualcomm, Freescale and Nvidia will soon start to gain traction.
Similarly, Windows is expected to start losing market share to open-source operating systems, such as Ubuntu, Intel's Moblin and Google's Android and Chrome OS, particularly at the smaller end of the range. However, if Microsoft can correctly pitch the netbook-oriented Starter edition of Windows 7 it may be able to minimise these losses.
"The jury is still out on performance and compatibility. Traditionally, accommodating that smaller [smartphone] form factor and focusing on battery life has come at the expense of pure CPU and graphics performance," explained Jackson.
He also warned that manufacturers will have an increasingly difficult time differentiating their devices from the rest of the market without creating a range of 'super-netbooks' that begin to cannibalise laptop sales.
Jackson believes that the term 'netbook' will fall out of favour, and may even disappear by the end of the year, primarily due to a lawsuit brought by Psion which owns a registered trademark on the term.
Although the lawsuit has been settled amicably, the report suggests that many would prefer to use terms like 'mini-notebook', 'ultraportable PC', or 'mobile internet device'.
Regardless of the terminology or their future appearance, Forrester's report makes it clear that netbooks are a rapidly growing subsector of the PC market, and will become an increasingly integral part of our lives.
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