‘Smartbooks’ The new inbetweeners

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Apple chief executive Steve Jobs appeared happy to bury the netbook computer at the launch of the Apple iPad last month. He said small-format laptops, or ‘netbooks’ are “not better than a laptop at anything; they’re just cheaper.”

Of course, amid the staged fanfare of an Apple product debut, it was Jobs’ contention the iPad represents the new in-between; a brand new device form factor that will find its home and audience between the laptop computer and the smartphone, thereby precluding the longevity of the rudimentary netbook running off weak chipsets that discourage data-intensive multi-tasking. 

Netbooks, tablets, booklets and super-phones. It is getting crowded in there.  And you can add to that list ‘smartbooks’. Manufacturers are launching products at increasing speed with new form factors, or at least loose nomenclature for a new range that sits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop in terms of form factor and between netbook and laptop in terms of performance.

Apple’s iPad is a large-format tablet computer integrating the iPhone operating system, Wi-Fi connectivity, word processing and an ebook reader. Although it is to be made available with the option of a 3G version also, phone calls cannot be made on the device. The mobile connectivity will be for data only.

The excitement around the iPad should be understood in terms of the hype that attends every Apple release now, and also for the opportunity it appears to present for a new era of digital publishing. Those that are hyping it are in large part those that wish to be saved by it, as print revenues tumble, print audiences fall and publishers struggle to monetise online advertising.

But it is the first iteration of a new concept in both manufacturing and consumption of digital media. It will be a relatively niche product. As its critics at Mobile News’ sister title What Mobile declare on the facing page, it is good for sofa web-surfing, and not really for the kind of work-tasks smartphones, netbooks and laptops are useful for.

Which brings us to ‘smartbooks’, and back to Jobs’ original statement about the future of netbooks.

‘Smartbook’ is a descriptive and generic term used by a number of companies, consumers and commentators to describe a class of device that ostensibly combines attributes of smartphones and netbooks – the power of the former and the form factor of the latter.

Acer says the key to the smartbook is in its diminutive size – that it is a “two-handed” device for smartphone working. Acer senior vice president Aymar de Lenquesaing says: “Devices are split between a ‘one-hand’ and a ‘two-hand’ device. The focus is around the size and the user experience rather than the integrated functions.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 457 (February 15, 2010).

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