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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Will Netbooks Get Squeezed Out?

Qualcomm and Freescale today amnounced plans to launch "Smartbooks" - a family of internet connected devices. The name is an obvious attempt to distance themselves from the Netbook category. So what are smartbooks? The primary function is to connect to the internet. The cost Qualcomm claims will be lower than Netbooks. The battery life will be longer. They will run a Linux based OS as opposed to Windows XP or Windows 7.

But is there really a market for all these devices? or are vendors segmenting the market so finely that each segment is a mere sliver? Let us consider the full spectrum of mobile devices today from smartphones to notebooks.

mobile computingAs shown in the chart, the space in the lower left quadrant copmprising of smartphones, smartbooks and netbooks is a key competitive battleground with potentially Netbooks getting squeezed. while both smartphones and netbooks exposed a latent need for lighweight mobile computing devices, how that space consolidates is too early to tell.

One things is clear though - the traditional business computing space is not likely to be cannibalized by these devices for two reasons

1. These devices will likely be used in addition to traditional notebooks. Further these devices (netbooks excepted) will not be running Windows which is a major problem for business adoption

2. The impending release of ULVs or ultra low voltage processors will lead to lighter business PCs running industry standard OSs (Windows)

Fighting for a slice or a sliver?

Whether or not these devices will succeed depends largely on the appetite for consumers and businesses to adopt multiple devices. Given the overlap in functionality buyers will be hard pressed to make choices about which device suits them the best. Currently smartphones and netbooks have the greatest momentum. At techaisle we believe that smartphones will win. The scenario where a smartphone such as an iPhone or an Android based phone get paired with a large screen and a keyboard is an intriguing one and could well destroy the opportunity for other types of devices. Even if that doesn't happen, the market appears poised to fragment as more devices appear. While that may increase the size of the pie, vendors could be left fighting for slivers rather than slices.

Abhijeet Rane

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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The Long Tail of iPhone Apps

The folks over at gigaom have written a nice analysis of the iPhone market. you can read that here. It would appear that the success metric for any platform these days is the length of the "app tail" and Apple is growing its tale much like the mythical Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Legend has it that the evil king Ravana set his tail on fire. He exacted his revenge by growing his tail winding it through the city of Lanka and burning it to the ground. In a sense, that is exactly what Apple is doing (minus the revenge bit). Apple took an approach that worked for it in the music buisiness and replicated it for the iPone. Why have they succeeded when others have (in relative terms) failed?

Think Different!

That tag line from the late 80s early 90s is very much alive in Cupertino. That drove their willingness to break the stranglehold of phone companies who for years took the walled garden approach to mobile applications. That undeniably marxist approach ultimately limited the market. The rationale was - everyone's doing it. Thats the point. That strategy ignored what consumers wanted. No different from the music business

Wow Everybody!

The use of technologies such as multi-touch and accelerometers made it compelling enough for at least one phone company to take notice. To their credit, AT&T smartly tore down their own walled garden (in a sense) and made the deal with Apple, gaining exclusivity in return. They got a device no one had seen before. Consumers got excited by the new capabilities, developers found a new creative outlet. An eco-system was born.

Stabilize the Universe

The creation of the iPhone was akin to the big bang. From it spun out a billion planets (apps) but the real work begins now. For life to be sustained, the universe needs to be stabilized. Microsoft knows a lot about this incidentally having very ably stabilized the desktop and server app universe over the past 3 decades. The mobile world is not forgiving enough to give Apple that kind of time, but stabilize it they must for this is the most profitable period of market exapnsion for them. As long as they keep coming out with good devices they will remain the center of the mobile app world.

Repeat until failure

At some point Apple will falter on one of its strategies. Its going to happen. Until then they will keep repeating this formula making just enough changes to fit the opportunity at hand.
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Skype Coming to BlackBerry in May



Could this indeed be a killer app? It could be. As a small business my mobile phone is my lifeline. Indeed at Techaisle we all rely on our mobile phone. for inter-office calls and for communicating with our remote teams, we use Skype. So the combination of the two would help tremendously.

It is intriguing to think about what this does to a unified communications strategy of companies like Microsoft and Cisco. There are some differences and a comprehensive UC solution offers much more. But the low end of the market - very small businesses may find the above solution just good enough.

what do you think?
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Notebook v/s Netbook - A market segmented

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.

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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.
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