Microsoft's own data, released as part of its recent financial disclosure, reveals something we suggested a while back: The netbook phenomenon is winding to a close. As the recession ends, people want more powerful PCs.
The statistics within MS's data are, as the Wall Street Journal notes, pretty unequivocal: Over the last year, laptops in the $500 to $850 price bracket leaped in sales by 35% while netbooks sales grew just 20% and appear to have stabilized at about 12% to 18% of the entire consumer portable computing market in the U.S., E.U., and Japan. This is based on sales of the machines bearing Windows OS, so it doesn't strictly account for netbooks sold that carry variants of Linux...but those machines were only popular in the early days of the netbook boom, until consumers realized they preferred more familiar computing experiences.
But now it looks like the consumer is getting wise to the fact that netbooks are lower powered, and though they offer some benefits like improved portability and longer battery life, the facts that you can't run powerful graphically demanding games on them and type as comfortably as on a full-sized laptop (thanks to typically smaller netbook keys and trackpads) are beginning to affect their sales. The oft-heralded long battery life of the mini computers is also a selling point with decreased value, as the latest Apple MacBooks with their 10-hour claimed battery lifespans suggest.
The WSJ notes that data from NPD contradicts the info from MS, to a certain extent, and this indicates that companies like Asustek needn't panic and start churning out bigger, more fully equipped laptops yet. Indeed, MS's data shows that people are still buying netbooks, it's just that they're buying fully equipped notebooks at a faster rate. So the overall message is clear: The netbook is cooling down from a massive, surprising growth phenomenon to being just another ordinary bracket of the consumer PC market.
So if netbook sales are slowing, and consumers are looking in the $500-plus bracket for their portable computing needs, doesn't this empty out a nice hole in the market in the $400 to $600-$700 price range for a whole new paradigm of portable computer? We're talking about tablet PCs, folks. They may just turn out to be the next phenomenon. And unlike the netbook which merely reinvented a genre, the tablets are carving out a whole new one. The iPad is leading the charge of course...and with estimated sales of over one million units already, Apple's quickly sewing up the new market just as it forms.