Netbook Shipments Predicted To Hit 139 Million Units

MIDs were thought to be the next big mobile devices segment, but an unclear usage model continues to confuse the market, according to an analyst report.

CTL's IL1 is an example of a netbook
(click for Netbook image gallery)

Shipments of mini-laptops are expected to quadruple over the next four years, luring users with the right combination of size, price, and functionality, a research firm said Monday.

Shipments of the lightweight ultraportables with screen sizes of 10 inches or less are expected reach nearly 35 million units this year, rising to $139 million in 2013, ABI Research said.

Mini-laptops, also called netbooks, are expected to grow in popularity mostly because of the failure of smaller mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and smartphones to deliver sufficient functionality to satisfy computer users on the road.

"In recent years, the industry still expected the smartphones to be more than they turned out to be, and most recently, MIDs were thought to be the next big mobile devices segment, but an unclear usage model continues to confuse the market," ABI analyst Kevin Burden said in a statement. "So today, netbooks' time has come, and ABI Research expects them to enjoy very strong market growth."

Smartphones, however, did a lot to pave the way for netbooks. The devices, which began as a convergence of personal digital assistants and cellular phones, introduced consumers to what was possible in mobile communications and Web access, ABI said.

ABI isn't alone in projecting strong growth in the netbook market, joining Gartner and IDC. However, the mini-laptops, which sell for as little as $300, have also had their problems with consumers. The rate of return for the devices has been higher than standard notebooks, primarily because of a failure to meet performance expectations.

Biz360, a market intelligence firm, found that netbooks get a 40% lower rating from consumers than other laptops. The findings were based on an analysis of 20,000 online opinions culled from consumer reviews on retail sites between May 15 and Nov. 15.

While vendors often portray netbooks as offering strong performance, the systems' low-power processors are best suited for basic computing needs, such as e-mail and Web browsing.