A recent survey says that consumers have no idea about the weaknesses of netbooks versus notebooks, and have no idea how best to exploit the mini PCs. Disney meanwhile does understand, and has come up with a great netbook audience: Kids.
According to NPD's survey, 59% of netbook owners surveyed bought the devices for their mobility, but 60% of the respondants never took their mini PC out of their home—so much for maximizing the mobility. Furthermore 60% of netbook owners said they thought the machines would have "the same functionality as notebooks." But with reduced-size hard drives, smallish RAM, slow single-core Atom processors, and typically very limited graphical capability, the average netbook is, of course, no match for the average notebook PC.
In other words, it looks like consumers are buying netbooks for all the wrong reasons. It's possibly down to three main issues: The "keeping up with the Joneses" trend, inaccurate information from shop assistants, and low tech-savviness on the part of the average consumer. All three of these are pretty much self-evident facts. I even saw an electronics shop assistant dismiss the differences between the tens of netbooks on display as irrelevant—"It's basically down to how big a screen you want," he said. The problem's demonstrated well by the image above which was pulled together by UMPC Portal in March, showing every netbook on the market at that point. There have been dozens released since.
But Disney recently pulled the wrappers off a new netbook, built in collaboration with the netbook king Asus, and it may actually be the most well-targeted netbook yet. It's aimed at kids, for whom the mobility of the devices is a boon, and the low computer power doesn't matter. Disney's branded it the Netpal, given it a sealed trackpad, spill-proof keyboard, and reinforced corners so it resists thumps better. It's basically a typical 8.9-inch screen netbook inside, but Disney's bumped the parental controls significantly, and given it a dual-boot. One mode is standard Windows XP, but the other is a Disney front-end with custom browser, Disney-themed graphics, a "Radio Disney" app which plays music from its large stable of recordings.
The Netpal costs $350. And, if you think about it, it's the perfect netbook. Kids smaller fingers won't be irritated by the reduced-size keyboard, the limited battery life is a de facto time limit to prevent over-use of the machine (assuming parents keep control of the power cord.) And the machines are relatively cheap so you won't mind too much if their lifespan is limited by rough-and-tumbled treatment by your kids. And in fact, most netbooks have these advantages. So here's a piece of advice for dissatisfied netbook customers: Slap some parental control software on it, give it to your kids and go out and buy a proper notebook.