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Waiting for the Eee PC/iPhone hybrid

The inexorable, inexplicable rise of the netbook continues. Despite their myriad limitations, and the proliferation of 'me-too' products on the market, the netbook bubble simply refuses to burst.

Thirty percent of all laptops sold to EMEA consumers in the final quarter of 2008 were netbooks - low cost, low spec portable PCs meant largely for web surfing and word processing.

According to IDC, education was a driver for netbook growth, with a 'major surge' occurring during the 'back-to-school season' (we used to call it late summer). It makes sense, I guess: netbooks are perfect for students and school kids. They're relatively robust, easy to carry, and if they do get broken or nicked, they're not too painful to replace, pocket wise. In that particular vertical, the netbook is fit for purpose.

Netbooks: the price is right?

As we know, UK consumers are obsessed by price, which is also helping the netbook boom. Despite the economic winter, EMEA netbook purchases flew to a whopping 3.6 million units in the last quarter of 2008. It's a result that makes other areas of the tech industry eat out their hearts, representing 20 percent of all laptop sales.

Netbooks are all grown up. A major player in the PC and mobile spaces, it seems, and here to stay. And now mobile vendors and telcos are trying to muscle in on the territory, with bundled- and 3G-enabled portable PCs on offer all over the show.

"As expected, mini-notebooks were one of the most sought-after items in the Christmas season, particularly in western Europe, which represented over 80 percent of volumes," said IDC's Eszter Morvay.

"Driven by strong vendor and channel push, consumers benefited from the plethora of new models appearing on the shelves from October onwards, and the explosion in the product offering stimulated fierce competition for shelf space. Following in the footsteps of Asus, there are currently more than 50 vendors, from international players to local assemblers, with a mini-notebook offering across EMEA, which is clearly contributing to the ongoing buoyancy."

So that's that, then. The netbook is king.

(Or not. It still feels like tweener technology to me.)

Netbooks: bird nor beast

Not a truly mobile device nor a 'proper' PC, netbooks are nothing like the web-enabled portable that road warriors and fashionistas crave. Neither bird nor beast, netbooks are the bats of the technology world. And who wants to carry around a bat in their pocket? (Pipe down, Osbourne.)

Give me something a little smaller, with better battery life, and I'll snap off your hand. But vertical markets aside, I simply can't see the benefit of choosing a netbook over a full-sized budget laptop, or indeed a 3G smartphone. As a horses-for-courses proposition, mini laptops just feel limited. And as a fashion proposition, they're looking tired.

Of course, when I'm schlepping round CeBIT in a week or two, I'll feel smug trekking the halls carrying nothing heavier than an Asus Eee PC. My shoulders are already feeling happier at the thought.

But at home or at work, at my desk or in a meeting room, a full-sized laptop or desktop PC is always better. And on the move, there's nothing a smartphone can't do that a netbook can substantially improve on. At least, not without a bit of faff, and a bag to carry. (And I look shocking with a handbag.)

Perhaps the great unwashed are labouring under the misapprehension that netbooks are a value purchase, then? Wrong. I'll tell you what I tell everyone who asks: if you've got the money to buy a netbook, you've got the money to pocket a much better full-sized, full-spec laptop.

It's just my opinion and, as the money rolls in, I strongly suspect that Asus, Acer and the rest are less than wholly concerned with it. The fools. But I live in hope for the next-generation device: the truly portable, truly functional mobile web-surfing device. The eeePhone, if you like.

See also: Asus Eee PC 1000HE review

See also: Apple iPhone 3G review

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