Netbooks May Soon Outsell Notebooks, says Qualcomm CEO

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Move over, notebooks. Netbooks may soon become the personal computer of choice for millions of end users, according Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs. In a Bloomberg interview at the CTIA Wireless Show in Las Vegas, Jacobs predicted the netbook’s rise could happen “relatively quickly,” although he declined to give a specific timeline.

Qualcomm has a vested interest in the netbook’s success. Its upcoming Snapdragon line of processors, designed for netbooks and other ultraportable devices, will debut in consumer devices later this year. Snapdragon will challenge Intel’s Atom chip, which currently dominates the netbook market and is slated to appear in other mobile Internet devices as well.

There’s little doubt that consumers are taking to netbooks in a big way. Some 21 million netbooks will ship this year, nearly double last year’s total, according to Gartner. Even more impressive is that fact that the netbook’s explosive growth comes in a year when overall PC shipments are expected to fall nearly 12 percent from 2008.

Price is certainly driving the netbook’s success. The mini-notebooks, which are fine for Web-surfing, word processing, email, and a few other basic chores, are relatively cheap, and ISPs like AT&T are now offering netbooks with 2-year service plans for as little as $50.

But I wonder if the public’s infatuation with netbooks will be short-lived. I’ve spent hours testing three of the top sellers, including the Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 9, and the Lenovo IdeaPad S10. My first impressions were very favorable. The machines were small, light, and simple. They were a lot easier to carry than my 17-inch laptop. Plus, they were cheap. I wanted one.

After a few hours of use though, my infatuation faded. The screens were small, the keyboards cramped. My back and fingers began to ache. My eyes were tired. Ergonomically, the devices didn’t cut it. I was happy to return to my full-sized notebook. And I began to wonder if other netbook users shared the same experience.

Of course, larger screens and keyboards would remedy the problem. But then is the device still a netbook? And are these mini-notes just a flash in the pan?

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