In one of the most bullish independent forecasts yet, a research firm is predicting 39 million netbooks will be sold worldwide in 2009 as the prices of many of the lightweight, ultraportable laptops plummet to $200 or less.
"We are talking about devices with full PC functionality that [because of low prices] have become disposable computers," said Kevin Burden, an analyst at New York-based ABI Research Inc., in an interview today.
ABI's forecast for 2009 netbook sales is almost double that of IDC Corp.'s prediction that 21 million netbooks will be shipped worldwide. It is also more than four times higher than Gartner's forecast of nearly 8 million netbook shipments in 2009. The figure for 2009 is also more than double the 16 million netbooks that ABI said had shipped in 2008.
ABI also predicts that 139 million netbooks will be sold in 2013. Burden called his forecasts "not necessarily bullish, and actually fairly conservative."
"The timing is right," he said, citing the availability of low-cost, low-power netbook processors in both x86 and ARM-based flavors; ARM processors use less power than the x86 chips.
Burden expects ARM processors from manufacturers such as FreeScale Semiconductor, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to lead to a proliferation of inexpensive Linux netbooks with features targeted at specific consumer segments.
"You'll see $200 netbooks that go after the outdoor hiking crowd, or those that go after gamers," he said.
Many of the netbooks will be convertibles, which have rotating tablet screens that allow users to write on one side with a stylus or type on a keyboard on the other, Burden said.
Netbooks have almost totally pushed aside two prior waves of smaller PCs, ultramobile PCs (UMPC) and mobile Internet devices, according to ABI.
About 920,000 UMPCs, such as the OQO, will be sold worldwide this year, ABI said. Regarded as too expensive for most consumers, UMPCs have been relegated to vertical business niches such as health care, Burden said.
"They've become something you get for your job, not necessarily because you wanted it for yourself," he said.
Nearly 6 million mobile Internet devices will be shipped this year, Burden said. In terms of size, MIDs generally fall somewhere between smart phones and UMPCs. Though they have been around since the late 1990s in the form of devices such as the Nokia Communicator, Burden said, they have faced two drawbacks: their prices -- they generally cost more than most netbooks, and their size -- they're too small for touch-typing keyboards.