Netbooks are becoming price and size competitive with certain classes of
consumer electronics. Will this trigger a shift in the market?
For the past 10+ years I have been looking on and off for a small,
quite computer to serve as a networked music player in the living
room, kitchen, etc. I always found that the small computers were
expensive and/or a pain to develop for so a year or two ago I gave up
my search. Last week a friend of mine was talking about his new
netbook and when I looked into it I was surprised to find that you can
now buy a small, quite, complete PC for $250.
At $250 and less than 80 cubic inches (1.3 liters) these netbooks are
becoming cost and size competitive with various classes of consumer
electronic devices. Could netbooks replace phones, picture frames, media
players, alarm clocks, GPS devices, radios, e-book readers, remote
controls, calculators, weather stations, and portable game systems?
The potential for this sort of shift exists because netbooks
could enable entrepreneurial software developers to re-conceive these
consumer electronic devices (really functions) in a network centric
way (whether those networks are personal, local, wide area, or social).
There are a lot of "yes buts" here. In particular dedicated consumer
electronic devices tend to have better industrial design and dedicated
hard user interface elements (e.g. a snooze button). The hypothesis is
that by moving consumer electronics to a generic platform new
developers will be able to come into the market, bringing new features
that will make using a netbook as phone/radio/etc. compelling in spite
of generic industrial design.
Also the user interfaces of consumer electronic devices are often not
that good. Yes telephones have an optimal interface for dialing a
phone number, but they are really bad at doing anything else (getting
your voice mail, picking up a waiting call, etc.) and who wants to
dial a phone number anyway? You want to call Joe, not 555-3437. As we
expect our consumer electronic devices to process more and more
information good interfaces will require big color bit mapped screens,
pointing devices, and keyboards.
Do I expect my next alarm clock to be a Netbook? Probably not. A full
blown computer is still a bit expensive and a few more pieces have to
fall into place (software platform? new form factors?). However my
guess is that high end desk phones, portable video media players
(though DRM is an issue here), and fixed location audio players are
ripe for this sort of transition.
"Will PCs (Start) to Replace Consumer Electronics?" I hope not. General-purpose computers are too complicated for most non-geeks, too easy for the user or malware to screw up somehow. Imagine countless people calling GeekSquad whenever their picture frames, media players, GPS devices, radios, e-book readers, remote controls, calculators, etc. exhibit mysterious behavior or are simply too confusing. Plus, contemplate all the toxic garbage of discarded PCs. The garbage of today's conventional remote control is a lot simpler than the garbage of a PC.
It's already started. Both my kids (12 & 13) have a small laptop (Asus Eee PC). Neither of them have CDs or a CD player nor expressed any interest in them. Nor do they have radios or TVs in their bedrooms. All that functionality they have found for themselves on the internet via their laptops.