It may take a few more years, but Apple’s iPad and its tablet progeny will eventually kill off the netbook.
That’s the prediction of research firm IHS iSuppli, which suggests that precisely zero netbooks will ship in 2015—a significant dip from the 3.97 million estimated to ship this year, and a far cry from the category’s dizzying sales heights of just a few years ago.
“Netbooks shot to popularity immediately after launch because they were optimized for low cost, delivering what many consumers believed as acceptable computer performance,” Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for computer platforms at HIS, wrote in a section of the report quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “However, netbooks began their descent to oblivion with the introduction in 2010 of Apple’s iPad.”
There’s a sprinkle of delicious irony atop this situation. Back in 2009, when netbooks were insanely popular, pundits and analysts railed against Apple’s reluctance to churn out a line of cheap, Web-connected laptops. So what if then-CEO Steve Jobs referred to the devices as “a piece of junk”? Consumers were snatching up various models by the millions. How could they possibly be wrong?
Then the iPad came along, and the game changed. Tablets offered all the capabilities that consumers wanted—Web surfing, streaming media, e-reading, game-playing—combined with a cheap price and the thrill of something new. The iPad and its successors were also thin and light, which neatly undermined netbooks’ other big selling point. Consumers abandoned their cheap tablets in favor of cheap touch-screens, and netbooks’ demise began in earnest.
If anyone’s going to miss netbooks, it’s Microsoft and its manufacturing partners, who depended on those robust sales to help keep their respective bottom lines pleasingly fat. But they aren’t blameless in the category’s demise: because netbooks’ cheap prices equate with low margins, those manufacturers have turned their energies to selling more expensive “ultra thin” laptops with more powerful hardware. The new Windows 8, which is easiest to use in conjunction with a touch-screen, is also driving the industry away from netbooks—touch-screens and associated hardware demand a higher price-point, elevating many Windows 8 machines beyond the netbook range.
Based on those projected sales numbers, however, it doesn’t seem as if most consumers will miss netbooks once they’re gone.