For months we've been hearing that tablet PCs - led by Apple's iPad - are hurting netbook sales in a big way. But are they really? For now, touchscreen tablets appear to be luring consumers away from netbooks but analysts believe in the long term, netbooks will hold their own in an increasingly fragmented mobile device market, particularly as computer makers address user complaints by enhancing netbooks with faster processors and new capabilities.
Few computer makers are more closely associated with the netbook than Acer, which helped define the genre with its Aspire One netbooks in 2008. Not surprisingly, the company believes that the tiny portables will thrive even as tablets take hold.
"While the netbook market has matured and is no longer experiencing the explosive growth we saw initially, it is still a key product category that will generate significant sales for consumers looking for both productivity and entertainment in a mobile device," an Acer spokesperson said.
Acer, which in November announced plans to enter the tablet market, sees a clear distinction between slates and netbooks. "Tablets...represent a different product segment that caters primarily to gaming and content consumption in the £400 to £600 range," the Acer representative said.
But netbooks typically sell for less. Most cost between £250 and £350, says Intel's Ng, though new features and innovations may cause prices to inch closer to £400.
In the coming years, tablets and netbooks will take divergent paths - the former focusing on entertainment, communications, and convenience, and the latter adopting a more work-friendly role. Each will carve out a niche in the personal computing landscape. One will not kill off the other, however. After netbooks succeed in boosting their processing power and adding new capabilities, they'll appeal to users who want a lighter and smaller version of a full-size laptop.
See also: can Google Chrome OS save the netbook?