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Yes - Netbooks are all the rage right now but we at techaisle don't believe in the doom and gloom scenarios pointing to the demise of notebooks. This is akin to a donut shop that starts selling bagels. Yes there will be people that come in and but a bagel instead thereby cutting into donut sales or maybe the better analogy is of a shop that sells donuts and mini-donuts. Same product shrunken in size.
But is the netbook now the new notebook? Should PC makers be concerned about cannibalization? Conventional thinking might suggest that to be true. After all, digital music cannibalized (and pretty much destroyed) CD sales, DVDs cannibalized VHS tapes and the list goes on. In all those cases however the new technology delivered a different and unique experience that older technology could not deliver - ability to create your mixes in the case of digital music, buy one song at a time and better viewing experience with DVDs. Cannibalization = replacement but for that replacement to happen, the product has to offer something unique. This is clearly lacking among netbooks whose only claim to fame is being a cheap, lightweight and small device.
So why are netbook sales increasing. We believe two things are happening:
1. Highly price sensitive customers are taking advantage of lower prices sacrificing computing power, screen size, gaming ability etc.
2. A new segment of mobile device buyers are entering the market expanding the market for mobile computing devices.
This is perfectly logical looking at the evolution of the PC market which has increasingly fragmented over time as user needs evolved
1. Early desktop market - Homogenous needs/users - primarily business use. all desktops nearly equal in capability. Minimal price variance observed
2. Continued evolution of desktops - greater price variance, home and small business markets start opening up, growth in ISV base, hardware options, geographic markets
3. Emergence of laptops - addresses latent mobility needs. Few laptop suppliers, premium prices and limited adopters driven by mobility trading off desktop capabilities for mobility
4. Expansion of laptop/notebooks - better hardware, greater price ranges observed for notebooks. Consumer, SB notebook market emerges. Mobility remains the primary driver but better price performance drives cannibalization of desktops. However, not all desktops will be replaced (at least over any reasonable forecast period). desktop replacement by notebooks will hit a wall at a point where the desktop value proposition exceeds that provided by notebooks
5. Expansion of mobile computing - Mobile computing becomes pervasive through a multitude of devices, netbooks being one of them. Inclusion of phones as viable mobile computing devices expands available price points, user experiences and user needs/behaviors
So while netbooks have been able to expand the market today by attracting new buyers and addressing latent mobility needs (need for small, lightweight device), market expansion will be limited by what we call the "value proposition differential" - the subjective and objective differences in user experience between products. This is a concept that Apple understands very well as evidenced by the success of iPods and iPhones
In other words, while pricing and weight got the market started, it will not be enough to sustain the growth of netbooks.