Why Netbooks Are an Enduring Hardware Category
Dana Blankenhorn has an interesting item up about netbooks, reacting to a post from Royal Pingdom which cites applications for netbooks that are very much like applications for smartphones. The Royal Pingdom folks cite "wardriving from the loo," and checking competitive prices outside shops as emerging netbook applications. I agree with Blankenhorn that smartphones are fine for many of these applications, but after using a couple of netbooks for more than a year now, I see them as an important category that fits between smartphones and laptops.
Many people see netbooks as being very comparable to smartphones, and there are even efforts on to subsidize the cost of them as long as buyers agree to two-year service plans. I use both netbooks and smartphones (my primary netbook is an Asus Eee PC), and I definitely don't see netbooks as being completely equivalent to smartphones--or to laptops.
The sizes of the displays on netbooks have crept up from the original 7-inch mini screens to healthy 10-inch displays, and yet the designs have remained very compact and the prices have remained very low. You can get a Linux-based Asus Eee PC at Target for under $300. With a 10-inch display, I am comfortable writing a blog post like this one, and performing many other tasks that I regularly need to do. I wouldn't be comfortable writing on a smartphone under any scenario.
As far as laptops go, they are the primary mobile devices that I use, and laptops have come a long way in recent years. Still, though toting my Asus Eee PC is much more comfortable than toting any laptop to, say, a tradeshow where I'm going to do some writing. Netbooks are great for targeted types of tasks, many of which smartphones wouldn't be good for, especially when light weight is desirable. I know, from many years of covering laptops, that weight is an important consideration for users.
I solve the problem of limited local storage on my netbook by using external storage devices. A lot of the time, all I need is a 64GB USB thumb drive to keep files backed up, archive things, and all the rest. The thumb drive weighs nothing and fits in my pocket. These are among many reasons why I think netbooks will remain an enduring hardware category, despite the naysayers. I'm hoping that the Linux models will maintain decent market share, and that these devices will continue to put many open source applications in front of new users.