Smartbooks vs. Smart Tablets: The Battle of 2010


As you may be aware, netbooks started out as connected, notebook-like products that were very cheap, did very little, and had high return rates. Thankfully, they quickly evolved into cheap notebooks and in certain ways some of them (especially the ones with NVIDIA Ion graphics) outperformed their much more expensive notebook competitors. It just goes to show that the market was looking for something different and in 2010 two competing ideas will come forward to provide more category differentiation still. First is the tablet, which is being spearheaded by Apple and led to market by offerings like those from the undermarketed Archos and the troubled JooJoo. Second is the “smartbook,” which appears to be favored by the other PC OEMs, cell phone companies and wireless carriers. Let’s talk about this impending battle.

Smart-Tablet: Crippled or Visionary?

It is often kind of funny to see Steve Jobs do his hypocritical dance. He didn’t like video on MP3 players until he sold the video iPod, didn’t like multi-button mice until the Mighty Mouse, and thought Intel processors sucked until he used them. He has also been outspoken about how stupid tablet computers were because, OMG, you needed a keyboard until he brought out the iPhone and iPod touch, both of which are mini-tablets without a keyboard. He also appears to think screen touch is stupid, but making a touch mouse, multi-touch pad, and the coming Apple Touch Pad is brilliant. Wait until touchscreens get cheaper for laptops.

However, the big question is was he right? Do we really need a keyboard in a small laptop-like device or can we live on touchscreens much like we do with the other Apple tablet-like products? Tablets haven’t historically done that well, but then phones like the iPhone didn’t sell well either until Apple built one.

Pixel Qi 3qi
Pixel Qi 3Qi

If you think of this device as more of a big iPhone or iPod touch which allows you to interact with content, provides a vastly better web browsing experience, and is a great platform for a new class of entertainment and short communications applications (like Twitter or Facebook on steroids) this could be the ticket to greatness and the hot product for 2010. Apple does these things almost like clockwork and this could be one heck of a kick-ass product class.

Still, I think it needs a better reading experience to hit its potential, so that it covers both the eBook and multimedia space, and while there is such a display coming to market in the Pixel Qi, it doesn’t look like Apple will be initially getting it. (In fact, only Acer seems to be playing with it at the moment.) So it likely will be great, but it may not be Apple who has the coolest product.

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