When someone asks you to name computer manufacturers, the obvious names pop into your mind: Dell, Gateway, Apple and so on. But within the last couple years, something curious has happened. Computer manufacturers who previously were nameless and fameless are suddenly front and center.
Take Acer for example. The last year has seen an explosion in the popularity of netbook computers, and Acer’s Apsire One line of $270 netbooks are all the rage. Previously, no one has heard of MSI, but now everyone and their mother is hacking their $300 Wind to run OS X. Same with Asus and their EEE PC line.
Some companies ready to break onto the scene are more familiar for their other products. At the Nokia World conference in Germany last week, Nokia announced their Booklet 3G, a sleek, 2 cm thin aluminum netbook, signifying that the company who previously made their mark on the electronics world by manufacturing phones is now trying to expand themselves back onto the PC market after selling that division more than fifteen years ago.
The Booklet 3G is powered by the same Intel Atom processor in the MSI Wind and Acer One lines, but whereas those netbooks are only wi-fi capable, the Booklet 3G will come built in with a 3G/HSPA antenna, giving the netbook data network access wherever cell reception is available, along with the assisted GPS found in mobile phones. The netbook will also have a 10.1-inch HD-ready screen and HDMI port, something typically reserved for higher-end laptops and desktop, and certainly not something offered on current netbooks.
Nokia is truly in a unique position too introduce a computer as ground breaking as the Booklet 3G is. Of course, a netbook this exciting is also rather wallet-breaking as well. While only European pricing has been announced so far, the Booklet 3G will sell for 575 euros, which comes to about 820 dollars. However, netbooks often come subsidized if they have a data antenna. No subsidies have been announced yet, but they would have to be hefty to be anywhere near the sub-$300 prices on other netbooks.
It’s also yet to seen whether or not the subsidized notebook market will even prove to be profitable. Many carriers in the US are offering netbooks for as low as $50 with a 2-year data contract. Considering how much iPhone users complain about being locked into their contracts though, the carriers will probably face some stiff resistance.
Curiously and notably absent form the netbook market though is Apple. Apple even poked fun at the concept of a netbook yesterday at their keynote, showing an image of someone failing to shove a Dell Mini into his back pocket. Apple continues to claim that people don’t want an underpowered netbook; they want fast and they want powerful. Of course this is belied by the fact Apple continues to offer their white plastic MacBook for sale, and that their “mobile computing platform” of the iPhone and iPod touch has half the processing power of current netbooks.
More over, an article Wired ran last month argued that we’re in the middle of the “good enough” revolution, stating that “the low end has never been riding higher.” An interesting point to consider.
In any case, netbooks are here to stay. It’ll be interesting to seem some the innovations that trickle down towards the end user from higher end computers. An always on data connection, A-GPS, and HDMI connectivity are a great start. What’s next?