Losing the shinyness

A dead netbook

Why aren’t we talking about netbooks anymore?

It wasn’t that long ago that everyone in the edtech world was talking about cheap netbooks and how they would revolutionise learning and change education forever.

Where are those netbooks now?

Back in the autumn of 2007, Asus launched their Asus EeePC. I managed to get my hands on one in February 2008; a small form factor PC running Xandros (Linux) with a 7″ screen. There had been small laptops before, but they were usually around £2000, the Asus EeePC was less than £200!

In 2008 everyone was talking about how wonderful the netbooks were and that finally here was a device that would revolutionise the use of learning technologies in the classroom.

It wasn’t long though before the “issues” started to arise. Screen size and keyboard size meant that before long the 7” netbook started to grow and today when we look at netbooks in most computer retailers, they have 10” screens and almost full size keboards. In a similar manner, the “free” operating system wasn’t liked by users or consumers and now virtually all netbooks come with Windows 7. The Linux revolution touted by some never happened. Also the storage limitations, the original EeePC only came with 2GB of storage, meant that the robust flash memory was replaced by more delicate hard drives so that users could have the storage needed to do what they wanted on the device. Another big issue was battery life, for some netbooks, 90 minutes was the norm, this meant that the portability of the device was sacrificed as you needed to be connected to the wall by the power cable.

The final nail in the coffin though has to be the MacBook Air and the Ultrabooks, which take us full circle back to the £1000 sub-notebooks that the netbooks were suppose to replace. These devices with their solid state drives, full size(ish) keyboards and high res screens.

Perhaps another nail in the coffin came from the release of the iPad in 2010, we suddenly realised that we didn’t want a cheap netbook, what we actually wanted was a tablet.

Market research firm ABI Research reports that Q2 2011 global tablet shipments rose to 13.6 million units, compared to just 7.3 million netbooks.  (Pinola 2011)

It’s not to say that netbooks are dead just yet, they are still for sale but we’re not talking about them in the same way that we are talking about iPads and tablets.

Are people using netbooks? Yes they are, people I know who have one, really like it.

Are they embedded into our educational institutions? No.

Have they revolutionised education as predicted in 2008? No.

Have we stopped talking about them? Yes.

Have they lost their shinyness? Yes!

Pinola, M 2011, Tablet Sales Overtook Netbook Sales in Q2 2011, accessed 20th July 2012.

4 thoughts on “Losing the shinyness”

  1. Interesting post, because I hadn’t really thought about our box of netbooks for a while.

    We bought the set of netbooks for our institution, which were used for classes in rooms without computers. This use was generally successful at the time as it allowed internet access for classes from more locations. Some staff liked the fact that when running a session in a normal classroom with netbooks, the technology felt less intrusive than running a session in a room full of desktop computers.

    I can think of a couple of reasons why our use of netbooks has stopped. Firstly and most importantly, netbooks were originally designed to just supply internet access quickly and conveniently. A large number of our staff and students have phones or tablets which fulfill this role.

    Also staff often wanted more from the devices than they could provide – really many staff wanted full laptops and not the cut down netbooks. We ended up trying to install the software that staff wanted on the netbooks which were not at all suitable for that. As you say above, netbooks started to grow and became not that different from laptops – what many of our teaching staff really wanted in the first place.

  2. Interesting the number of people now using tablets with bluetooth keyboards…. suggesting that what people really want is a small screen with a keyboard… which takes us back to… (and of course the advent of Microsoft Surface means that this combo will now return to a Windows environment by default?)

  3. How long will the enthusiasm for tablets last? They are ridng high on the hype cycle at present. Personally, I prefer my combination of laptop and smartphone. Laptop is better for input than tablet and iPhone better for portability (and you can make phone calls with it!)

  4. Just thought – the idea of the netbook was a response to things like One laptop per Child, and Intel classmate. The little keyboards were aimed at children, not teenagers, not adults. So, they never found their niche. I see them most commonly behind the counter in shops due to their small footprint

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