6 Reasons Tablets are Killing Netbooks (but not Laptops)

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Most tablets can’t do everything a Netbook does, so why are tablet sales eating into Netbook sales?

Are we accepting reduced functionality for increased portability?

My sister asked me the other week if she should buy a Netbook or a tablet for staying connected on the move. My gut reaction was to recommend a tablet, but to be thorough I googled to see what the general consensus was. I was surprised by the number of Netbook fans still out there. In fact many of the posts I read had Netbook fans expressing their frustration at the tablet’s limitations. If this is true, why are Netbook sales continuing to decline?

What is a Netbook?

Netbooks first appeared around 2007.  They are a small, lightweight, inexpensive laptop/notebook, whose primary function is to access internet based applications (hence the “Net” book, as in “Internet”).

6 Reasons Why Sales of Netbooks are Declining

1. Web 2.0 and the rise of social media

The way I (and many others) use the internet has changed radically in the last few years. It’s all about information sharing, exchange and consumption (elements of Web 2.0), preferably in snippets using twitter or facebook.  I haven’t written a lengthy personal email in years. Anyone I want to stay in touch with is on facebook or skype so there’s no need.  Tablets are consumption devices, which is a common criticism, but when I’m on the move that’s all I really want to do.  I can still easily use twitter or facebook but mostly I’m reading newspapers, newsletters and articles I’ve bookmarked.

2. Portability

Tablets are small, light, slim yet easy to read and navigate. Netbooks are small laptops. Tablets can have an internet connection built into them, unlike most Netbooks (excluding Chromebooks). They are as close to the slim paperback that can be slipped into your pocket to read on the train as possible (if a paperback could smash if you dropped it..) and there’s no danger of you running out of something to read.

3. Usability

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 11:  German Finance ...
BERLIN, GERMANY – JANUARY 11: Many German government officials and Bundestag members use iPads. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Tablets, especially the iPad, are incredibly easy to use. It’s not difficult to see why they have mass market appeal, even discounting the coolness factor.

Apps are cheap, child’s play to install and fun to use. I can’t edit a word document effectively, but I find I can work around that (i.e. do it at work or at home). It’s kind of a chicken and egg question.  Did we change how we use the internet because of the attraction of tablets?  Or did they happen to tap into a change that was already on its way and simply accelerate it? Certainly the popularity of the iPhone created a large audience for this type of usage.

4. Portable keyboards are as good(bad) as a small built-in keyboard

If I’m travelling with a tablet I can put up with the awkwardness of a portable keyboard or the onscreen keypad, but if I’m creating or editing more than a few paragraphs I will use a laptop with a full keyboard and a large screen. It’s far too frustrating to use anything else. Trust me on this one, I tried to use a tablet PC to do everything for six months and it nearly drove me crazy. Similarly, from comments I’ve read, the small keyboards on Netbooks tend to have the same effect.

5. The rise of The Cloud

You can’t store much data on a tablet. Netbooks have a significantly larger hard drive but much smaller than a laptop or desktop.  However, if I can store my documents and photos etc. in The Cloud and just download what I need to use, this is no longer an issue.

6. The acceptance of the tablet as a secondary device

I have read multitudes of comments from Netbook users who cannot fathom why tablets are killing the Netbook.  They tend to dismiss the tablet as just an e-reader and not a fully functional device – and they are right.  The big problem for the Netbook is that a large proportion of people don’t need a fully functional portable PC.  We have laptops or desktops at home and at work. There are a few users out there who use a tablet as their primary device but for most (like me) it’s a secondary device, and it’s a perfect fit for this social media, Web 2.0, data sharing age.

The facts and figures:

According to a Canalys report from May of this year, while Netbook sales are declining, both tablet and laptop sales are increasing, which supports the secondary device theory.

while the pad category exhibited the highest growth – more than 200% year on year – notebook and desktop PC shipments were up too, rising 11% and 8% respectively. Netbook shipments, however, were down 34% on the year-ago quarter – the sixth such fall in succession.

Will the Netbook survive?

Netbooks became popular not only because of their portability but because they were cheap. Laptops are continuing to get smaller, slimmer and easier to use, the difference is that the good ones are expensive, relatively speaking.

What is dying is the concept of the Netbook as a cheap portable device to stay connected. The tablet can do all that, and do it better.

What do you think? Do you use a tablet or Netbook? Do you see the tablet as a toy or a legitimate device?

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Author: Sue @ Oysterfruit

Owner at Oysterfruit.com.au.

21 thoughts on “6 Reasons Tablets are Killing Netbooks (but not Laptops)”

  1. I have only just bought an iPad, it is definitely as a secondary device, and it is a shared device with the whole family. So it will be used for lots of things, gaming, comic/graphic novel reading, magazine viewing, learning apps, entertainment. When it’s primary purpose is for viewing/consumption then the tablet is definitely right for what we wanted – plus, it’s so much sexier! Writing is still the domain of my faithful macbook pro. So I completely agree with the secondary device theory. If I needed to work portably, I would still lug my heavy laptop around because typing on one of those little netbooks would be a pain!

  2. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what a net book is.
    I use my iPad for pretty much everything. The keyboard doesn’t bother me and I can write for long periods of time on it.
    I do have a Mac book for anything it can’t do, and I love that so much.

    1. Hi Jess, some people really do seem to get the hang of their iPad keyboard. My asus tablet’s keyboard frustrates me, but I will happily type away on my iphone. Horses for courses!

    1. I have added a quick explanation of netbooks – just small cheap, light laptops really – as so many people aren’t familiar with them. They appeared in 2007, were hugely popular, and pretty much died this year as a few companies have stopped selling them completely.

  3. That’s an interesting post Sue. I’m more tossing up between a Kindle (or other eReader) and a tablet (Galaxy or iPad). I really only want one for reading ebooks on the train. I’m not sure I’d use many apps on a tablet because at home I use my laptop and out & about I use my phone, so I don’t know if I could justify the higher spend.

    1. Thanks! I’ve started using this browser plugin called Readability that allows you to save web pages to your reading list or send them to your Kindle. I also have the Readability app on my iPhone (which accesses the same reading list) as I try to use my train commute time to catch up on my reading. I’ve been thinking lately that it would be SO much nicer to read on a kindle/tablet than an iPhone. I don’t know enough about Kindles to tell if there is enough functionality on them for me though. It’s on my to do list to find out…

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Netbook. We have an iPad and I think it’s a legitimate device because of its versatility. I love how I can use it and now the boys can for their little games. The keyboard bugged me at first but now…it’s just like second nature.

    1. Hi Grace – congrats on your 3rd city to surf! You’ve made me think I should try to do it next year, it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve done it.
      Quite a few commenters have loved about the iPad onscreen keyboard. I find the one on my Asus slate very irritating, but then again I find the one on my iphone really easy to use. Maybe I should finally get an iPad?

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