| LAS VEGAS
LAS VEGAS Jan 11 Netbooks were everywhere and
on everyone's lips at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las
Vegas, expanding as a category of small laptop PCs that are
rewriting the rules for the struggling computer industry.
While nearly every major PC makers had a new netbook on
display at the four-day show ending on Sunday, no two companies
seemed to agree on what the rules are to define this segment of
tiny, ultra-portable notebooks.
Some netbooks are stripped-down PCs optimized for Internet
use and costing a relatively affordable $300-$400. But others
are fancier, like Sony Corp's (6758.T) $900, 8-inch device with
all the bells and whistles of full-sized notebooks.
It is early enough in the game -- netbooks did not take off
until last year -- that their ultimate place in the PC universe
is still unknown. If netbooks are, as many PC companies hope, a
companion product to a traditional laptop or desktop computer,
then they have discovered a new avenue to grow sales.
If, however, netbooks are replacement laptops, then they
would eat into the notebook market in a substantial way and
pinch the margins of PC makers.
Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder calls netbooks the "third
form factor in the consumer PC space, in addition to laptops
and desktops" and said in a research report that companies
should emphasize them as a complementary product.
Phil McKinney, chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard
Co's (HPQ.N) personal systems group, said the company continues
to view netbooks as a companion device. "We kind of look at the
minis as what we call a tweener product," he said.
What is certain is that netbooks are one of the few bright
spots for PC makers being punished by reduced IT spending and
falling consumer demand due to the global economic slowdown.
CES [ID:nN05368327] saw big names such as HP, Dell Inc
DELL.O, and Sony introduce new pint-sized models. Meanwhile,
netbook pioneer Asustek (2357.TW) showed off flashy innovations
on its line-up of netbooks, including a tablet model.
DEFINITION OF NETBOOK CHANGING
As originally conceived, netbooks were small, lightweight,
commodity PCs that offered consumers the ability to do simple
tasks such as Web-surfing, email and chat at a very attractive
price below that of a budget standard laptop.
The first netbooks to strike a chord with consumers were
models from Asustek and fellow Taiwanese PC maker Acer Inc
(2353.TW). The two companies still hold a commanding share of
the market, according to research firm DisplaySearch.
But with the bigger PC players now in the netbook game, the
market should get more competitive. Dell's and HP's models are
generally a little pricier, but still quite affordable.
Toshiba Corp (6502.T) is also preparing to bring a netbook
to the U.S. market, said Carl Pinto, vice president of
marketing for digital products at Toshiba America.
He conceded that netbooks do eat into the notebook segment,
but dismissed the reality. "Even if there's some
cannibalization, it's still complementary," he said.
Asustek Chairman Jonney Shih said he sees a netbook
cannibalization rate of around 10 percent, but said they are
the key to his company's future: "Those kinds of products are
the growth opportunity for us."
Many PC makers are also rolling out so-called ultra-light
notebooks, and they are careful to not lump them with netbooks.
Ultra-lights generally boast higher performance, a slightly
larger screen and a heftier price tag.
The category was essentially launched by Apple Inc (AAPL.O)
and its MacBook Air. However, Dell has now entered the space
with its lower-cost dv2 and dv3 models. Dell also gave CES a
sneak peek at its Adamo model, an ultra-light "luxury" offering
whose price tag has yet to be disclosed.
(Reporting by Gabriel Madway, editing by Tiffany Wu, Bernard