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Those who I've spoken to, know I predicted this about two years ago...

Netbook <http://blog.wired.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/26/netbook.jpg>

You may not know it yet, but the next computer you buy is going to be a
netbook. The numbers say so.

Despite their compromised feature sets and puny screens, netbooks have
pulled an all-out coup d'état on the portable PC market. Currently, nine
out of the top 10 best-selling laptops on Amazon are netbooks
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/09/ultra-mobile-de.html>. Over 2008,
manufacturers shipped 10 million netbooks. And looking farther ahead,
ABI Research forecasts that manufacturers will ship 200 million
ultra-mobile devices, including netbooks
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/09/ultra-mobile-de.html> by 2013 --
which is about the same anticipated size as the entire laptop market

Who could have guessed that low prices and ultra portability would have
struck such a chord with consumers?

People are going gaga over these pared-down devices, and manufacturers
are keenly aware of that fact. Most of the big PC makers, including
Toshiba, Dell, Fujitsu, Siemens and Samsung, have recently introduced
their first netbooks to this rapidly expanding market.

It's somewhat ironic that netbooks are shaping up to be the computers of
the future: They're hardly revolutionary; they're essentially a smaller,
dumbed-down version of standard notebooks.

"You're going to start seeing netbooks become more mainstream, as [top
manufacturers such as] Dell and HP begin to include more features in
these devices," said Vijay Rakesh, a ThinkPanmure analyst.

Rakesh said that the relatively low price point of netbooks -- they
range from $300 to $500 -- is their primary driving factor, especially
in light of a troubled economy. He added that other key factors
attracting consumers are their mobility and weight: Most netbooks weigh
no more than three pounds and measure about an inch thick.

Netbooks are only going to get more attractive and successful as they
expand their feature sets, Rakesh said. And many companies are already
taking aim on delivering a full computing experience to these miniature
devices, with new chips, batteries and power-saving methods on the horizon.

At the 2008 Intel Developer Forum, Intel officials announced
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/08/intel-shows-off.html> their focus
on empowering the netbook universe. The company is developing Moorestown
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2007/09/the-iphone-is-o.html>, a platform
due in 2009 that Intel promises will be exponentially more powerful and
more power efficient <http://www.neowin.net/index.php?act=view&id=40040>
than the current Silverthorne (Intel Atom) platform.

Meanwhile, netbook software also promises to evolve. Phoenix
Technologies, the company responsible for the BIOS (Basic Input/Output
System) that boots many Windows computers, is developing a low-power
mobile computing operating system it calls PC 3.0. Running parallel to
Windows, the instant-on environment will allow netbooks to perform
several internet-centric functions without actually booting into
Windows. Functions promised in PC 3.0 include multimedia players,
browsers, internet telephony, e-mail and IM.

The most important issue Phoenix's concept would address is battery
life, explains Woody Hobbs, CEO of Phoenix Technologies. If you want to
deliver mobile performance, you have to ensure a netbook can even handle
it without running out of juice.

"You can give up and say 'It's a trade-off; you can't have all that
power and solve all those problems,'" Hobbs told Wired.com. "But it's
not true: Technology is capable of addressing the problems. We just have
to address them smartly."

And if Phoenix's PC 3.0 environment isn't enough, Toshiba has the bases
covered with batteries, too. Toshiba recently unveiled its Super Charge
Ion Batteries
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/09/toshibas-super.html> (SCiB) in
Japan -- which take a bit over ten minutes to charge and will last
longer than current lithium-ion batteries.

A challenge manufacturers will face is keeping the price point low as
they cram more features into these puny devices, Rakesh said. He noted
that Apple has yet to step into the netbook world -- and consumers
should have high expectations from the company that revolutionized the
mobile phone.

Not much has been said about what Apple has in store. The rumor mill has
been churning about a special event announcing a revision of the
extremely successful MacBook, and many have speculated the next release
will be Apple's netbook: Perhaps the fabled "Brick
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/09/apples-brick-a.html>" or the
MacBook Touch
<http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/07/rumor-apple-to.html>, which would
essentially be a larger, more powerful version of the iPhone.

Whatever direction manufacturers decide to take, it's clear netbooks are
getting closer to fulfilling the vision of Alan Kay, the former Xerox
PARC researcher who first drew the concept of the mobile, personal
computer back when computers were still eating punch cards. In his
concept, dubbed "Dynabook," Kay assessed that a portable computer must
weigh no more than two pounds, sport a display containing at least 1
million pixels, and be extremely thin in one of its dimensions. And most
importantly, a Dynabook would have to be "an amplifier for human
(especially child) endeavors."

"I'd like to think that [netbooks] are finding a form factor and weight
that fits human beings better," Kay said, "but I'm presuming that it is
because many people use only a small part of what they could do on their
larger machines, and much of what they do use computers for can be done
through a browser or a few simple apps."



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