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Netbooks meet smartphones - the next big thing?

The netbook will look very different in the future

Even though netbooks only exploded on to the market two years ago, they've dramatically evolved. We take a look at what netbooks might look like in the future.

A new heart

If the heart of a computing device is its processor, the new netbooks will be getting something of a heart transplant.

Until recently, netbooks have used variations of the same long-standing x86 processors that were used on desktops and laptops since the early 1980s. These processors, such as Intel's Atom, were modified to use relatively less power than standard laptop processors, making them a good fit for small devices such as netbooks.

By contrast, the new netbooks will largely use processors based on designs from the ARM, long a developer of processors used in mobile phones and smartphones. Several vendors will be manufacturing these processors, including Texas Instruments and Freescale. However, the processor that has garnered the most attention is Snapdragon, which is being manufactured by Qualcomm, another long-time developer of phone chips.

These new processors aren't just change for change's sake, according to Mark Frankel, vice president of product management in Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies division. Rather, the new processors will enable netbooks to have a new set of capabilities, he says.

Using similar hardware such as Atom processors, "made netbooks somewhat cookie-cutter-like," Frankel says. "Now, there's a transformation occurring in netbooks".

In particular, Frankel claims that Snapdragon draws only 500 milliwatts of power, which is one-fourth the power draw of Intel's Atom processor. "Because of the lower power requirements, you'll be able to leave it on all day like you do with your smartphone," Frankel says.

Another key advance is that these devices can be turned on without the traditional minutes-long boot sequence.

In addition, while the initial version of Snapdragon will operate at a relatively slow 1GHz, it will have extensive media acceleration capabilities. These new capabilities make the new netbooks a perfect fit for a projected new target audience, proponents believe.

"Users will be younger, more mobile and they'll want email access, media content, the web, social networking," AT&T's Lurie says. "They want to get to these things immediately, so you can't have a two-minute boot sequence and you need a full-day battery."

Frankel adds: "There will be a richer user experience with more emphasis on entertainment than on productivity and PowerPoint."

NEXT PAGE: Focus on a new OS

  1. Why we think the netbook will look very different in the future
  2. A new heart
  3. Focus on a new OS
  4. A new approach
  5. Do these new netbooks have a future?

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