February 21, 2011
Before netbooks came on the scene, it was very rare to see an ultraportable laptop make its way to the States from Japan, and those that did could easily cost more than $1,500. There are still a good number of these Japanese-exclusive designs that can be perused and purchased at Dynamism, but the disparity isn’t nearly what it once was. The U.S. even gets to partake in such unusual designs as Sony’s Vaio P, an sleek but pricey reinvention of the traackpadless, low-profile clamshell Sony pursued with the originally Transmeta-based PictureBook.
However, much of the Vaio P’s form factor appeal has been captured by NEC’s LifeTouch Note, which uses a Tegra 2 and Android on a 7” display (slightly smaller than the Vaio P’s). For now, it’s being made available only across the Pacific in NEC’s home market. However, there are a few reasons I’d like to see it come stateside sporting Android or perhaps webOS under the HP brand.
- It’s even smaller and weighs less than the average netbook
- Unlike tablets, it could have a usable touch-typable keyboard
- It boasts nine hours of battery life, which represents great longevity for something so thin.
- Its low profile is less obtrusive when taking notes in meetings, and is a dream on an airline tray in a cramped coach seat
- The form factor is differentiated from those of Windows netbooks.
- It’s affordable as a second PC, residing in the high-end netbook/midrange tablet price range at $500
- At least for HP, it would be a nice update to the market that was once served by the Jornada line of Windows CE clamshells..
I particularly like the BlackBerry-style finger trackpad below the keyboard, but it might not be necessary depending on the operating system. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any buttons that flank it, although that could be added.
Alas, the LifeTouch Note has a resistive touchscreen; I’d see stylus input – and perhaps even touch itself– as less important for this form factor. Still, with the right apps, it could be a dream machine for light productivity on the go, filling a niche between tablet and notebook.
Tags: Android, HP, Jornada, Jupiter, LifeTouch Note, NEC, ultraportables, Vaio P, webOS, Windows CE
July 22, 2008
In a piece that casts doubt on the future of the (sigh) “netbook” market, Matt Richtel curiously provides quotes from Sony Electronics and Fujitsu, two of the more successful companies selling high-end ultraportables in the U.S., but doesn’t include any quotes from companies that have actually launched these products here, including HP and Asus.
It’s not surprising that Sony and Fujitsu would be relatively down on inexpensive ultraportables because their products are the most immediately threatened by inexpensive notebook PCs with small screens. Really, though, they needn’t worry, because anyone willing to invest $1,500 or more for a high-end ultraportable isn’t going to downgrade to this product.
In other words, at least in the UI.S., netbooks are about market expansion at a time when consumers are going more mobile. HP at least is thinking about these products in the right way, targeting students and other select demographics who need light computing on the go. Is that 10 percent of the notebook market for the next two years? Probably not. But as Tim Bajarin aptly notes in the Times piece, when you are at the scale of an HP or Dell, you’re not going to surrender shelf space or mindshare to an unknown Asian upstart.
It’s all well and good to pursue margin, but there’s no margin in a market that doesn’t yet exist. While we will see barebones Linux configurations for $300 or $400, more of the market is going to be closer to $500 or $600 where major manufacturers move plenty of Windows notebooks, many of which have at least some higher component costs.
This fall, we’re going to see a lot of activity in this market.. it’s going to get pretty bloody fast. And to be clear, the space between the smartphone and notebook PC has been a difficult one to fill. But it’s very difficult to ascertain the true potential of this device because their real opportunity is in a world of integrated, affordable broadband wireless access, an evolution of the explosive growth notebooks saw after Wi-Fi became popular.
Tags: mini-notes, netbooks, ultraportables
May 31, 2008
I had questioned how Dell would respond to the challenge of the Mini-Note after Michael Dell said that it would, and the preliminary answer seems to be “very well” as it has taken the high-design route. The mini-Inspiron has a lowered hinge like the MacBook Air and HP Mini-Note and the glossy red cover is strongly reminiscent of he Lenovo IdeaPad U110. In at least one picture, though, the Dell logo looks upside down when it is facing others.
Things I immediately like about the mini-Inspiron just from the picture include more traditional trackpad button layout versus the Mini-Note and a better screen to form factor fit. However, my concern is that both of these have come at the expense of the keyboard, which looks smaller than the Mini-Note’s (but hopefully bigger than the Eee’s). It also looks less chunky than other products in the class although that may just be an illusion of the photo angle. The big unresolved questions, of course, include specs (including battery life), and price.
Tags: Dell Mini-Inspiron, ultraportables
OMG, GMTA! Engadget and Gizmodo have both posted mini-treatises (the latter less mini) on terminology for small, inexpensive notebooks, answering the call of a comment on one of my posts a while back.
Analysts love to put things in boxes (and I deal with my share), but I think it’s probably too early to start getting into semantic taxonomies. That may be prejudiced by working at a firm that substantially tracks technology products after they ship and often after they reach a high enough volumes to penetrate retail. Nevertheless, the terms being bandied about for these products are tainted by older contexts that the Gizmodo article doesn’t fully explain, even though they do reference the Libretto, one of the earlier subnotebooks.
Speaking of which, I view ultraportables as a synonym for subnotebooks. The former term began being used by notebook manufacturers who didn’t like the idea of their lightest smallest wonders being referred to as “below” notebooks.
Anyway, here’s how I break down these products using a lot of the vernacular currently being thrown around:
Ultra-thin notebook PC
Way thin notebook PC that manufacturer obsesses over fitting into office supplies, 13″ to 15″ screen. The next generation of “thin and lights”.
MacBook Air, Lenovo X300
Ultraportable/subnotebook (classic definition)
Full-featured 10″ to 12″ screen notebook PC designed to support mainstream PC software. ‘Spensive.
Sony TZ series, Lenovo IdeaPad U110
Mini-notebook/subnotebook (new definition)/netbook
7″ to 10″ clamshell designed for light on-the-go computing. Cheaper than ultraportables but seem to be creeping up to traditional notebook price points. Subclass of this group are the “kiddie notebooks” like the XO and Classmate
Asus Eee, Cloudbook, HP Mini-Note, etc.
|UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC)||4″ to 7″ screen, slide-out or other alternative keyboard. Differentiated from mini-note by its intent to be used standing up. As Microsoft coined this one, I’ll insist that it ships with Windows.||OQO Model 02, Samsung Ultra,|
|MID (Mobile Internet Device)||3:” or 4″ screen. Often no keyboard. Designed primarily for media playback or light information consumption. However, is in some sense a platform. Can be thought of as a media player that has branched out or a reticent smartphone.||Nokia N810, iPod touch (post-SDK), Sony Mylo, Archos Series 5.|
Update: Intel (or parties therein) is now referring to the mini-note category as a “netbook” which people might remember was a name given to the Psion Series 7-type device years ago. I’m not wild about this term because I think it implies too much of a thin client approach, particularly as these PCs are increasingly shipping with Windows. It may be catchier, though, than “mini-note” (which I think has more momentum now, and which somehow has a more European flavor (Minitel?). In any case, I’ve added it as a name to the device class.
Tags: mids, mini-notes, subnotebooks, ultraportables, umps
April 9, 2008
HP’s much-heralded Mini-note has finally arrived and to favorable reviews. CRN calls it “a real winner” and says that “the quality and finish is outstanding.” James Kendrick now questions whether his Fujitsu Tablet PC is worth its 3x price premium over the Mini-Note. While I’m no Tablet PC fan, I like the Fujitsu P-series and form factor, and the company will certainly feel more heat in its niche as other notebook heavyweights move in.
This segment will represent a test for Dell, which seems prepared to enter this space before the end of the year. Dell has done well in the education market (for which the Mini-Note was especially designed) with its aggressive pricing while trying to improve its design perceptions particularly as it has moved more aggressively into the hands-on world of retail. It will be challenging for Dell to lowball HP while live up to the 2133′s design expectation.
Tags: Dell, HP, Mini-Note, ultraportables
March 27, 2008
The Asus Eee was noteworthy for its small size and low price, but it overshot on the former and underperformed on the latter. Originally designed to hit a $199 price point and bring an OLPC-like proposition to a wider audience, the first products retailed for twice that amount. Meanwhile, the 7″ screen, which helped the device reach its low price, proved cramped even for the Linux installation shipped by default.
(Note to companies playing in this space: if you want to reach a lower price point by shipping Linux on a 7-inch screen, take advantage of open source and invest some time in tailoring the applications for a smaller-screen experience. Simplify the user interfaces or buy or develop your own. Think Nokia Internet Tablet.)
In any case, Asus (and others) have clearly recognized that a couple of more diagonal inches can make a world of difference in the user experience. Including Windows for a premium will represent greater competition with budget laptops that typically have larger screens. Even at a higher price, these notebooks are more likely to open up the market for ultraportables, which are currently a very small part of the U.S. market, then set off a race to the bottom. It’s not cheap enough to be a second or third PC for many, but neither is the Eee at $400.
In terms of Asus’ planned revamp, it’s adding potential features that are starting to detract from its “volksbook” proposition. I’m less bullish on the addition of a touch screen and GPS to the Eee, although multi-touch gestures would be welcome addition (if a bit cramped on its small trackpad).
Tags: 9" screens, Asus EEE, ultraportables