Netbook shipments to double this year, research says

Netbook shipments will double this year, while mainstream laptop shipments will remain flat, research firm DisplaySearch said on Monday.

Netbook shipments this year could reach around 32.7 million units, propelled by competitive pricing and improved hardware capabilities. Shipments will be close to double that of 16.4 million netbooks that shipped last year, said John Jacobs, director of laptop research at DisplaySearch.

The latest estimate represents a hike in the company's previous forecast of 27.5 million netbook shipments for the year.

Netbooks will also take a larger chunk of worldwide laptop shipments as mainstream laptop shipments flatten, Jacobs said. Worldwide mainstream laptop shipments will total 129.5 million, flat compared to last year.

Buyers are drawn to netbooks because of competitive pricing between $300 to $500, Jacobs said. PC makers have also improved netbook hardware with larger screens and keyboards, which could further boost demand. The improvements were necessary as the cramped keyboards and small screens were resulting in many netbooks being returned, Jacobs said.

Some PC makers are also offering netbooks with better graphics capabilities, Jacobs said. For example, Lenovo recently introduced the IdeaPad S12 netbook, which has a 12-inch screen that can play full high-resolution movies with the optional Ion platform from Nvidia. The platform couples Nvidia's GeForce 9400 graphics core with Intel's Atom chip.

Companies like Apple previously dismissed netbooks, saying the small laptops had junky hardware and limited software capabilities.

Hardware improvements could blur the lines between netbooks and mainstream laptops in the future, Jacobs said. That could affect the shipment of laptops priced at around $800, he said. Lines could blur further when new ultrathin laptops priced between $500 and $800 make an impact, Jacobs said. PC makers recently started offering lightweight ultrathin laptops, which are more powerful than netbooks, but offer less performance than mainstream laptops.

Netbook shipments are getting a boost in developing countries, where buyers are adopting them as primary laptops. In developed countries, however, netbooks are viewed as secondary devices to mainstream laptops, Jacobs said.

Frozen IT budgets have also slowed down mainstream laptop shipments, though that may change in 2010 when customers look to upgrade their PCs to Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 OS. There is a lot of momentum behind Windows 7, but unlike mainstream laptops, users won't buy netbooks specifically for the OS, Jacobs said. Microsoft has said it would offer a version of Windows 7 for netbooks.

DisplaySearch said that of the 32.7 million netbooks estimated to ship this year, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) will account for 13.1 million units. North America shipments will total 8.8 million, with Greater China totaling 3.9 million units. Shipments in Asia will touch 3.0 million, while Japan and Latin America will account for 1.9 million units each.

Netbook shipments for the second quarter of 2009 totaled 7.07 million, just shy of 100% year-over-year growth, Jacobs said.

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