Netbook, Small and Disruptive – Always Connected Servers and Devices

Economist has an article on netbooks titled “Small and Disruptive.”

Small but disruptive

From The Economist print edition

Laptops are evolving—and forcing the rest of the computer industry to change


IT WAS like waiting for Godot: in the end, the great man did not come. The crowd at Apple’s jamboree in San Francisco this week was visibly disappointed when Steve Jobs, the computer-maker’s legendary chief executive, did not even put in a brief appearance after a six-month medical leave. But another no-show was perhaps more important. Proving many techno-pundits wrong, Apple did not present a “tablet”—a pared-down computer in both size and abilities, with a touch screen. Had it done so, it might have helped settle a question that has preoccupied the personal computer (PC) industry for some time: are netbooks—cheap and basic laptops that are flying off the shelves—just a fad, or the future?

The answer is probably both, as an “iPad”, or whatever Apple’s device may be called, would have demonstrated. Netbooks are already being supplanted by a plethora of new gadgets, including tablets and increasingly computer-like mobile phones (see article). But the idea they embody, that a near-permanent connection to the internet permits simpler technology, is already changing the economics of the PC business.

As companies build low power devices that can be on all the time, connected to servers on all the time there is a disruption in the industry. Energy efficient devices that can be left on all the time are changing how people use computers and what the expect.  It is no longer the common case of I am going to sit at my PC to use Word or Excel.

Yet although netbooks have acquired many frills and mutated into new forms, the theory behind them endures: computers do not need to be stuffed with the latest whizz-bang technology if they have a high-speed connection to the “cloud” of services available online. At Computex firms showed devices equipped with WiMAX, a new wireless technology that allows for fast, ubiquitous wireless connections.

It is this combination of connectivity and cloud computing that makes netbooks and their successors so disruptive. Some mobile-network operators now throw in free netbooks if subscribers sign up for a mobile-broadband contract. This will put further pressure on prices, since mobile operators have more bargaining power than individual consumers, although it also opens a huge new distribution channel for computer-makers.

I recently participated in a NDA video shoot for a new product 6 months out which fits in this category, and it got me thinking more on this subject.

So, I placed my order for an iPhone 3G S which I’ll get on June 19..  My Apple friends will be happy to see after all the years at Microsoft, I’ll be back to using an Apple product.