Smartbooks: Blurring The Line Between Smartphone And Netbook - InformationWeek

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Commentary
6/1/2009
01:06 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Smartbooks: Blurring The Line Between Smartphone And Netbook

Some companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia are going one better than netbooks when it comes to power savings and small form factors for mobile computing. These devices will use chips based on the ARM architecture instead of the current chip favored by netbooks, the Intel Atom. ARM should be a name familiar to you as it is the chip that powers most of the smartphones currently available, including those running Android, Windows Mobile and the iPhone.

Some companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia are going one better than netbooks when it comes to power savings and small form factors for mobile computing. These devices will use chips based on the ARM architecture instead of the current chip favored by netbooks, the Intel Atom. ARM should be a name familiar to you as it is the chip that powers most of the smartphones currently available, including those running Android, Windows Mobile and the iPhone.These new devices have been coined Smartbooks, perhaps paying a bit of homage to some of their smartphone heritage. They will get great battery life compared to current netbooks and require less hard drive space and RAM, but they will also do less. These devices will run Linux or something based on it like Android. You won't get Microsoft Windows to install on them, though a manufacturer might get Windows CE or some flavor of the Windows Mobile OS to work.

The Smartphone operating systems can be great at certain things, like email, social networking, listening to music or watching video, but they aren't so great at other things, like running Excel, managing your music library or using your companies ERP software.

I myself have currently shunned a full blown laptop for a netbook for all of my personal use. I don't play games or edit video, so it works fine for me. Like most consumers, I would still have to have a "real" PC at home to do some heavy lifting, but that doesn't need to be portable. I can use the netbook for my music library, keeping up with my financial information and even using Office applications in a pinch. I also have a smartphone for my ultra mobile needs, as well as the occasional voice phone call that I have to have.

I think this makes sense for an increasing number of people - a PC at home, a netbook for portable use and a smartphone. Where does a smartbook fit into all of this though?

They cannot replace many functions of your PC. While you can listen to music on them, they won't support iTunes, Zune Player or any other PC based library designed to sync with your MP3 player. If you are in a hotel and want to download the latest music or podcast and sync to your MP3 player, you may be out of luck unless you can get the info from the internet directly from your player. If your job requires you to have basic access to work information even when on vacation, a smartbook won't work unless you do almost everything via Citrix or another remote desktop technology. Even printing might prove to be a challenge as Linux based drivers aren't nearly as plentiful as Windows or Mac drivers are.

The truth is smartphones are getting more powerful each today, eliminating the need for a device between it and a netbook. I've played with Citrix clients on my WinMo phone for years. Other than having a bigger screen and touch-type keyboard, the smartbook will be of limited use to most people. Yet companies are continuing to hype the technology. There will be a trade show in Taipei called Computex this week and according to the New York Times, smartbooks will be all the rage as netbooks get pushed out of the limelight.

We'll see. I think our smartphones are powerful enough for this type of mobile computing. If you need much more than that, I think you'll move up to a PC based platform, leaving little room in the middle for these new devices.

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