Analyst: Netbooks to stick with 10-in. screens

LED backlighting expected to take over

Despite a new crop of netbooks sporting 12-in. displays, vendors will mostly build models with 10-in. screens in coming years because of cost and size, said one market researcher.

Vinita Jakhanwal, an analyst at iSuppli Corp., said that the screen resolutions for 10-in. netbooks, usually 800 by 480 (VGA) and 1024 by 600 (SVGA), were unlikely to improve because of the increased manufacturing cost involved.

But she expects netbook makers to follow notebook PC trends and replace conventional CCFL-based LCDs with brighter and more environmentally friendly LED-backlit screens in coming years.

"It's just a couple of dollars more for backlit LEDs," Jakhanwal told Computerworld on Tuesday. LED screens do not use mercury in the manufacturing and are said to use less power.

iSuppli projects 24.4 million netbooks will be produced this year, and for that number to grow to 47.7 million in 2012.

Screens 10 inches in size should comprise about 55% of the market this year, and 8-in. to 9-in. screens are expected to comprise slightly less than 40%, according to iSuppli.

When netbooks were first introduced by One Laptop Per Child and Asustek Computer Inc. in late 2007, they came with 7-in. screens. This was to keep netbook manufacturing costs down, to prevent the internal chips from being overtaxed and to make them more portable.

Those smaller 7-in. screens, which made up about 25% of shipments last year, will shrink to less than 5% of the market this year, said iSuppli.

Netbook makers quickly responded to consumer desires for a larger size by shifting up to 9-in. and 10-in. screens, over the objections of Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., which were aiming to prevent lower-priced netbooks from cannibalizing sales of mainstream laptops.

Intel, Via Technologies Inc. and Nvidia Corp. have since released more powerful processors or graphics chips that can support larger screens.

The trend of upsizing netbooks has shifted into overdrive in recent months, as Dell Inc., Samsung and Lenovo have all announced or released netbooks with 12-in. screens.

Jakhanwal, who regularly talks to LCD makers as part of her research, said she is unconvinced that 12-in. screens will take over on netbooks.

For one, 12-in. screens detract from a netbook's portability, which is "one of its biggest selling points," she said.

Another limiting factor is that Korea's LG Display Co. is the only vendor actively marketing 11.6- or 12-in. displays for netbooks today, she said. As a result, 12-in. displays remain much pricier than 10-in. ones, which as of January were selling to PC makers at about $40 per screen, according to iSuppli figures.

Wireless carriers interested in bundling 3G-enabled netbooks with service plans are likely to prefer smaller screened netbooks. According to reports, Asus will continue to build 7-in. netbooks for the phone companies.

While netbook screens may not be growing, some vendors are increasing the number of pixels per inch of screen size.

Hewlett Packard Co.'s Mini 2140 comes with the option of a super-sharp 1366-by-768, 10-in. display.

But, again, more pixels means higher costs, Jakhanwal said, as well as more drain on the battery. For those reasons, she expects most 10-in. screens to remain at 1024 by 600.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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