Slate Vs Netbook? Who Will Dominate The Ultra-Portable PC Market This Year?
Jan 21, 2010
Ladies and gentleman, Nerds and Nerdlings, we are nearing the beginnings of the portable PC wars, a war that may determine the future feather-weight big hitters of the portable PC market. This market is currently the fastest growing sector of the PC market and has been dominated by Netbooks in 2009. But some are speculating that 2010 will be the golden year of the tablet PCs.
Since the legendary Apple rumors that their new tablet PC will be called the 'iSlate', other computer makers have now dubbed their own touchscreen pc's "slates". It's hilarious that the name for a whole family of upcoming devices was derived from an Apple rumor. Tablet PC's have been around for a long time, but many analysts believe that this year may finally be the year that they become widespread and successful.
There are those who believe that the "slate" or portable tablet touchscreen PC may replace the netbooks and ultra-light laptops. My opinion is that the issue (and market) right now, is much more complex than that. So here in this article, I will discuss & predict the issues at hand and foretell how this will all play out. This is only an "educated guess" on my part, so please don't take my words as fact. But, you can if you want to.
'Netbook' Versus 'Slate' For those of you that are pitching the Netbooks against the Slates... I believe you have it all wrong. Comparing Netbooks to Slates is like comparing "Apples to IBMs" ;) Sure, on the inside... the only real difference between the two is the fact that "Slates" will have a touchscreen instead of a keyboard. But even if the guts of the two machines (like the CPU chip, hard-drive, video chip, are the same) having a touch-screen instead of a keyboard fundamentally changes the way you use those two machines. For example, personally I will always prefer the tactile feel of a real keyboard instead of a virtual keyboard and typing is usually more efficient on a real keyboard. On the other hand, the touch-screen greatly enhances other functions... for example, it's much more fun to draw on a touch-screen. Also, even if both devices run the same Operating System (Windows 7 has built-in touch screen compatibility), the user interface experience will still be different. But perhaps the biggest difference of all, and the one that will ultimately determine how successful "Slates" become, is the way they will be marketed.
How the Netbook became successful: To understand how important marketing is, lets evaluate what made the "Netbook" so successful to begin with. The netbook gained immense popularity because it filled a niche that was always in demand. Since personal computers were invented, there has always been a demand for small portable computers that were powerful enough to be useful and yet, small and light enough to be carried around without being a huge pain in the butt. Through the ages, lots of things tried to fill that niche... things like the PDA's, Pocket PC's, Laptops, and even Cellphones. Netbooks, with their special blend of long battery life, small form factor, built-in Wifi, and other features, filled this niche perfectly. They finally offered true computing power (the ability to run a full complete operating system), in a small form factor, and at an affordable price. That last feature I mentioned is the key to it's ultimate success: Affordability. The Netbook was first introduced by relatively small companies in the computing world. The first popular netbooks were the MSI 'Wind', Asus 'Eeee PC', and the Acer "One". These three companies and their Netbooks literally defined and invented this category of tiny machines, their features, and their price point. In other words, they set the standards. And because these companies were "lesser known" and competing against each other in this new market, they had to make their Netbooks very affordable, feature packed, and maintain a high build quality. They were the true pioneers of the Netbook market, so the standards they set became law. Even when the big boys like Sony, HP, and Dell finally showed up, they had to compete in the market with already established features and price points.
So how are 'Slates' different? Marketing is everything, and from the get-go, people have immense expectations from Slates. Not only that, but because the Slate started as an Apple rumor, this automatically puts it in the "premium" category of products which will come with a huge price-tag. Heck, anything with a touch-screen is automatically put in that category... for better or worst.
So where-as the Netbook was a 'rags to riches', 'underdog to hero' story... the beginning of the Slate story is quite different. Due to the high expectations that this product already demands (even before launch), the manufacturers will also demand a high return (profit). See, you have to realize that the same people that will be making these Slates are the same ones making the Netbooks. With netbook sales at an all-time high and growing, they will not stifle that growth by pitching the Slate into that same "affordable" market or category as the netbook. The bottom line is that Slates (at least in the beginning) will be very expensive. So you see, the battle will really be between the slates and laptops or ultra-light laptops. My prediction is that the most successful Slates will be the ones that integrate the netbook and slate (touchscreen plus keyboard) in one product... a hybrid. I shall call it the "Touch-Book" :) Actually, IBM already has one 'slated' (lol) to come out later this year and it's called the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, The true challenge to selling these Slates/Tablet PC's will be finding the right "price point" though. What good is high demand if nobody can afford to buy one?
Right Or Wrong? Actually, for once... I'm hoping my predictions about this market are wrong because I would really love to see an amazing affordable slate PC this year. But my guess is that the slates will cost you around $700 to $1000, and perhaps even more. The only way that the Slate PC will sell like hotcakes is if they can match the "bang for the buck" traits of the Netbook. In my humble opinion, it is highly unlikely that these new Slates will sell as well as the Netbooks this year.
Slate computers, which resemble writing slates, are tablet PCs without a dedicated keyboard. For text input, users rely on handwriting recognition via active digitizer, touching the screen with a fingertip or stylus or by using an external keyboard which can usually be attached via a wireless or USB connection.
These tablet PCs typically incorporate small (8.4–14.1 inches/21–36 centimetres) LCD screens and have been popular for quite some time in vertical markets such as health care, education, and field work. Applications for field work often require a tablet PC that has rugged specifications that ensure long life by resisting heat, humidity, and drop/vibration damage.
This added focus on mobility and/or ruggedness often leads to elimination of moving parts that could hinder these qualities.