Thoughts on netbook trends

15 April 2009

This morning I had an enjoyable interview with a reporter from SD Times about trends in our market specifically (what DevExpress is concentrating on this year) and on our industry in particular (what you might call consumer computing).

One of the trends I (and many others) have seen over the past 6 months or so is the meteoric rise of netbooks, those small cheap underpowered mini-laptops with 9, 10 inch screens and ridiculously long battery times. The current netbook phenomenon can be traced to the Asus Eee PC in 2007, although certainly PCs like the One Laptop Per Child project has had some influence. Although early netbooks exclusively used some form of Linux with a user-friendly interface, by mid-2008 netbooks were appearing with Windows XP as the OS. Netbooks are also important for their use of SSDs (Solid State Drives) before these became more widespread in normal laptops. Netbooks sales have grown exponentially (an estimated 400,000 in 2007, 11.8 million in 2008, and a projected 35 million in 2009) compared to a stagnant PC market, so much so that it has reduced Microsoft's (Windows XP is much cheaper for OEMs than Windows Vista, and they've been selling boatloads of XPs on netbooks and not many Vistas in comparison) and Intel's revenues (the Atom processor is much cheaper than your run-of-the-mull Core 2 Duo).

The interesting thing about netbooks derives from their name (part Internet and part Notebook): they're designed for use on the web. Sure the Windows-equipped versions can run normal Windows apps, but it seems that's not particularly what people get them for. For a start, they tend to have small amounts of storage (especially those with SSDs) and no optical drives, so installing software is a bit hit and miss and not many people bother. No, it's all about getting on the web through wifi (although many netbooks now come with 3G cards too) and surfing and using web-based applications.

In essence, netbooks are more about the personal and not the business life. Since they get online really easily, they target the person who wants to carry around a light small laptop that's easier to use than a smart phone for web stuff. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social sites. Surfing. Reading the news. Watching YouTube videos. That sort of thing. They're about online leisure activities, not work.

It's amazing how many people are eschewing ordinary laptops to go for a "simpler" appliance-type computing device. A device that only acts as a conduit to applications and computing on the web, that's updated through the web, and that requires the web in order to be productive. To meet that demand, just look at the cloud applications out there for you:  internet mail, Google docs, online backups (although for a device that you don't install anything on, I'm not sure how important those are), and so on. If you wanted to at least install some basic applications like Skype, you'd have a much broader communication experience as well.

In other words, the fastest rising segment of consumer computing is focused on the web. It's pointing to the growing use of cloud computing, to the rise of social websites. What does that mean for us, you and me, developers writing applications? Well, simple really: the web is where it's at. Sure, there will always be a market for thick clients (probably), but more and more consumers are voting with their hardware money for web access, for the wider interactivity that's affordable through being online.

Over Easter I bought a Dell Mini 9 (it should arrive this week) and I'm going to be seeing how well I can adjust to a web-only life as a man-in-the-street consumer. Of course, there's going to be developer activities that won't translate, but for the rest I'm going to try it out.

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My boss just bought me a netbook (HP mini) in stead of a notebook, which was a standard for staff in my company before.

For my boss thinks there is no big difference between netbook and notebook for an office worker, while the price is totally different.

In other words, my boss does not care about the speed of CPU, the size of memory and hard disk. He cares only the user experience, light and price:).

I don't think it means we will meet an age of web-only.

For Devexpress, the suggestion is the speed and memory usage is not important any more, instead user experience is .

Internet is not web only! I personally think web is only for light application, which is not the primary market of Devexpress.

Of course, Devexpress should focus the Internet architecture. For example, offer heavily support of n-tier, web services in XPO and XAF.

BTW, Devexpress is great!



15 April 2009
Steve Sharkey
Steve Sharkey

When they first came out there was a clear cut advantage over notebooks - battery life & price! BUT people have completely the wrong idea about what they are capable of and for those we have tried everyone has been left disappointed. Some of the prices are quite astonishing too - with just a few more pounds a far more useable notebook is possible:

Dell mini 10 = £299

1.33GHz Atom

10.1" screen


120GB Storage

Dell Inspiron 15 = £329

1.6GHz dual core

15.6" screen


160GB Storage

If I could get a small device that I could use Visual Studio on to enable me to write and test small sofwtare units prior to integration with larger systems I would consider one - until that time I think I can cope without the internet on the move....

16 April 2009

I think there will be a stream towards internet-based applications. So the best DevExpress can do in this scenario is delivering good technologies for web-development.

This does not necessarly mean just nice web-controls as much more good frameworks for data-access etc. Especially XPO should much more be prepared for such a way. I think it is a good moment as Entity Framework seems to be a bit "disappear in the shadow".


16 April 2009
Vasya P

Steve, VS 2008 runs quite alright on my netbook (MSI something 120, $329 retail price). The netbook weighs half the regular notebook, small enough to use it comfortably on a cramped bus, and on top of that I need to charge it only once a week... the only thing I don't use the netbook is the internet on the move

16 April 2009
Ed Fry

If you look how netbooks have developed since Asus first unveiled the first Eee PC at COMPUTEX Taipei 2007, they're become so much more serious, both in terms of looks, specs and availabilty.

If a company like Asus can get (almost) every computer manufacturer pumping out thousands of these each, then it's certainly a product that's gonna last - netbooks outsold iPhones during 2008 and look at the marketing effort behind that.

It's appealing to a much wider audiance based on 3 simply selling points.

1) Smaller

2) Lighter

3) Cheaper

Asus, I think, tried to make it "simpler" too, but if you look at the latest models such as the HP mini 1000 and Sony VAIO P Series, they're  seamless in specs and looks with larger laptops in their respective ranges.

16 April 2009
Steve Sharkey
Steve Sharkey

Ed Fry said:

If you look how netbooks have developed since Asus first unveiled the first Eee PC at COMPUTEX Taipei 2007, they're become so much more serious, both in terms of looks, specs and availabilty.

But as they've become "much more serious" so have the prices and one of the three factors in their favour has been lost - Which Sony VAIO P Series can claim to be cheaper than an equivalent (or even better specified) laptop?

I think that unless you buy into the whole Apple "style over content" argument then the only net books to consider are those right at the bottom of the range (£200 max) and accept their very limited web browsing functionality and possibly the odd note taking. They are basically a scaled up Pocket PC - consider them as such and you wont be (so) disappointed - they are generally being over sold.

17 April 2009
Marcelo AR
Marcelo AR

Good analisys, but please keep on working on WinForms technology and try to make it as web compatible a as possible (by creating an html edit control for example). We still can have the best of both words, particularly if we have more productive tools for creating ocasionally connected applications.

17 April 2009
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)

Marcelo: Heh, the intent of some of my posts is not to indicate what DevExpress is going to do or not do, but to just think out loud and point out some fascinating stuff. Personally speaking, I can't see us changing direction at all with regard to netbooks, but it's certainly interesting to reflect on their recent and rapid popularity.

For instance, my personal web site looks appalling on a 1024x600 screen. I'd thought, as have a lot of people, that 1024 pixels wide is old-fashioned and I should be catering for 1280 pixels wide as a minimum. Perhaps that's an invalid assumption to make if your website is likely to be viewed by people with netbooks.

And so on.

Cheers, Julian

17 April 2009

nice post Julian, thanks..

17 April 2009
George K. Fahnbulleh

The Netbook is an intermediate step in the trend toward mobility and miniaturization.  From a marketing perspective, it allows MS to put more copies of windows on "computers,"  but it does not provide much more in terms of mobile usabity:  you still have to stop, open the lid boot and type. Are we there yet?  No.

People want mobile computing devices, that are:

1) always on

2) always connected

3) OS agnostic

4) can provide significant functionality for general tasks

Meanwhile, Apple is approaching 1 billion apps sold/downloaded.  Anyone missing this would have to be really blind.

I have to computers:

1) a power XPS from dell - used when I have to develop

2) an iphone - that does everything else I can get an "app" for.

My advice, start developing controls for the iPhone and other Mobile platforms.  We should not believe that MS Windows, in its current form, is going to maintain computing dominance.  It will not be "replaced" by another OS.  It will be supplanted by Mobile device OS.  Right now Apple is so far ahead it's a long distance call.

18 April 2009

for me the limitting factor is the screen... When the netbooks graduate (and they will) to a screen that will support development on VS or other graphics/display intensive work then I will buy one and RDP to a virtualized desktop (probably using direct access) and not look back.  If it adds multi-touch for the times I don't want or need to type then it will be game over... as we accelerate towards the mainframe, er I mean cloud model of computing


21 April 2009

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