Remember the netbook “fad” from a few years ago? According to Wikipedia, “netbook” as a generic term came into widespread use in 2007. By 2011, manufacturers such as Dell exited the netbook market due to declining sales.
Were netbooks really a fad, or was there something more to it?
Before proceeding, let’s get one thing out of the way. Netbooks were cute little notebooks with small price tags that helped to turn them into impulse buys. That cuteness also helped them grab shelf attention in the stores.
Cuteness alone could not explain their popularity. Let us not forget that netbooks actually disrupted the existing larger notebook sales.
It might be helpful at this point to take a look at overall computer sales and how markets have evolved over time. At one time, desktop machines dominated the sales figures. Then, full-sized laptops disrupted the dominance of the desktop PC sales. Netbooks disrupted laptop sales. Next, tablets and smartphones disrupted the netbook sales.
I believe that netbooks inadvertently dangled the carrot of a small, lightweight machine that happened to be a full PC, where real productivity could happen. Of course, the reality did not quite match up to the promise. Most netbooks were sorely underpowered. The worst aspect of the netbook was the smaller keyboard. Typing on the average netbook-sized keyboard is not an enjoyable experience.
Whether we realize it or not, many of us are always looking for productivity devices. With every computing device I’ve ever purchased, in the end I’m always looking for ways of putting the device to work. How useful it is ends up determining if it is one of my most-used devices, or if it ends up given away, or forgotten on a shelf or in a closet somewhere. Once the novelty and the emotional hype of having the new device is stripped away, the question is always what can this device do in terms of productivity?
So rather than being seen as just a fad, the relatively brief popularity of the netbook should serve as a lesson. We are on the hunt for productivity devices. The more portable the better, but without sacrificing usability or performance.