PC industry should fear the march of the mini-laptops

13 Aug 2008

The newest emerging category of mobile computing devices – mini-notebook PCs – are on track to reach 4.2 million units this year and will grow to eight million units next year. It’s predicted this new category could cannibalise the lower-end PC market within two years.

The new category of notebooks – a typical example of which is the Asus EEE PC (pictured) – have a screen size of five inches to 10 inches and run a full version of operating systems like Windows XP or Linux.

These devices typically sell for as little as €300 and could be a vital emerging market for users such as second- and third-level students, as well as future users in emerging economies, not to mention business users.

“The demand for mini-notebooks will be driven by several factors: by their small form factor and small screen, their light weight, their price, their ease of use and their basic, but sufficient, PC functionality,” said Annette Jump, research director at Gartner.

“Mini-notebooks are likely to attract a variety of users with different usage scenarios: content consumption, internet browsing, email, instant messaging (IM), keeping in touch with friends and family, storing and sharing pictures and so on.

“Potential users are likely to include both first-time buyers seeking a low-cost introductory PC, as well as experienced users seeking a low-cost second or third PC for themselves or a relative.”

Although mini-notebooks started as low-cost education PCs, since the end of 2007, the target audience has expanded from the education market to consumers in both mature and emerging markets and a few business buyers.

Gartner believes the largest growth opportunities for mini-notebooks are in the consumer subcategory and that this segment will eventually account for about 70pc of all mini-notebooks.

The main drivers for mini-notebook adoption will be market positioning, device price, availability of wireless connectivity and its costs, as well as support from channel partners and retailers.

“Mini-notebooks create opportunities to reach some new PC buyers and expand within existing buyers across all regions,” Jump added. “Considering the majority of mini-notebooks will be sold to consumers, PC vendors will need to pay increasing attention to the design and ease of use of mini-notebooks. These will be two crucial factors in this segment.”

Gartner said it does not expect any major cannibalisation of mobile PC shipments by mini-notebooks in 2008 and 2009 because there is a significant functionality and performance gap between notebooks and mini-notebooks.

However, from 2010, mini-notebooks may start to cannibalise some low-end mobile PC volumes, and from 2011, they could significantly boost business PC shipments if their performance increases substantially and they prove attractive to general business users.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the Asus EEE PC mini-notebook

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years