This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of mobile computing: The Smartbook. In the same way that a netbook filled a previously unknown need by being something between a laptop and a smartphone, a Smartbook device is halfway between a smartphone and a netbook. And actually, better than either.
The race for the next-gen netbook is on, and it’s the chipmakers leading the charge. Intel’s play became clear last week when it acquired Wind River. Now both Qualcomm and Freescale have designs on getting their chips inside a Smartbook device too. Speaking to TechVideoBlog at Computex, Freescale’s Director of Business Development Steve Sperle even demonstrated an Android-powered smartbook alongside a similarly-powered netbook.
The Smartbook device was made by Inventec. It runs a Freescale processor inside, which gives it sufficient power, while letting it remain skinny and running cool. It’s not unlike how Intel’s Atom chip fueled the netbook boom. It has a four-inch screen and a slide-out keyboard, and resembles the ill-fated OQO mini-computer more than a little bit. But where OQO crammed a full Windows XP-supporting chipset in its devices, the Smartbook’s idea is to sit somewhere below netbooks in terms of power. In this case Android makes a great choice for its user interface.
Given how much mobile tech we already have, are Smartbooks a dumb idea? No. I think we’ll likely see more of them, although whether they’ll be an explosive phenomenon like the netbook is anyone’s guess. The reasons are pretty obvious: The world is now used to the iPhone, as well as the Eee PC and their copycat clones. But we’re also well aware of their flaws. Netbooks actually aren’t particularly useful if you need to do more than surfing the Web and writing email. For full computing, you’re probably better off with a small notebook PC. Meanwhile, smartphones are fabulously handy, but cramped for watching movies, and not powerful enough to let you easily edit a business document. So a device that improves upon these flaws, with a Bluetooth headset for calls, and a large touchscreen for editing perfectly fills the capability gap.
That’s as long as the pricing is right. One reason OQO flopped was the high price tag in a world of cheap netbooks. And the iPhone, at around $300, sets the upper limit for smartphones. Ditch those clunky keyboards and the Smartbook, for maybe $400, will be a big seller.