Netbook dies as Asus and Acer end production

By Peter Gothard
02 Jan 2013 View Comments
A netbook

The close of 2012 saw Asus pull out of the netbook market for good by axing its Eee PC product.

As reported by Digitimes, the Asus announcement came on the heels of Acer's exit from the market.

Further reading

A typical netbook has a screen of around 10in and an Intel Atom processor. Sales hit a peak with the arrival of the Asus Eee range in 2007 – a machine that measured just 9.1in x 6.7in, weighed 0.9kg and had a 7in display area.

By the end of 2008, many predicted a very bright future for netbooks, but the format's prospects looked a lot bleaker after the mid-2010 launch of Apple's iPad. At the time Steve Jobs remarked caustically that "the problem is that netbooks aren't better than anything".

Apple's MacBook Air, which also relaunched in 2010, was arguably another nail in the netbook's coffin. The 11.6in, super lightweight yet tough portable outperformed most netbooks on the market.

According to IDC analyst David Daoud, netbook sales "took a nosedive" in 2010.

Q1 2010 saw just over nine million units sold worldwide, which was worrying enough, but in Q4 2011, only 6.5 million netbooks limped off the shelves.

Netbooks suffered from slow processing performance, low battery life, a tiny keyboard and the lack of an operating system that truly suited them – Windows reduced battery life exponentially and tailored, power-saving Linux builds proved under-featured. Given these shortcomings, the format was always going to struggle against Apple's slick tablet and equally slick offerings from companies such as Samsung and Asus itself.

In 2010, financial services firm Morgan Stanley estimated an annual sales figure of 42.7 million netbooks by the end of 2012, though it reduced this figure to 36.1 million shortly after the launch of the iPad, which quickly began to redefine user expectations.

Morgan Stanley's analysis of daily internet use by the nascent Apple device showed, even so soon after release, that "usage [was] already well above those of smartphones and closer to traditional PCs".

Jobs' words were perhaps borne out: besides a legitimate boast of providing environmentally friendly, energy-efficient computing, the netbook's only other claim to fame was being outrageously cheap.

The MacBook Air, and more significantly the iPad, showed that people were still willing to invest in a piece of hardware that genuinely improved portable computing, rather than accepting a rough and ready compromise simply because it was cheap.

The latest Gartner figures put sales of the iPad since launch at just over 100 million units, with Android tablets following at 40 million. The analysis firm projects sales of a further 100 million iPads in 2013 alone, and over 60 million Android tablets. 2016, says Gartner, will see annual sales of 370 million tablets.

With so many individuals jumping on this upward-trending curve, it's easy to see why there was nowhere left in the market for the humble netbook.

It's not all over for the Intel Atom processor, though. According to Digitimes, Intel will begin tailoring the future of its tiny processors to the embedded "internet of things" market in devices such as digital signage and point-of-sale technology.

Though an excellent, compact and attractively priced budget option, ultimately the netbook just couldn't lay claim to an area of tech to call its own in a market contested by a tablet movement that brought the crucial factors of genuine innovation and a dynamic software plan.

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