Worldwide mini-notebooks shipments are on pace to reach 5.2 million units this year and 8 million units next year, Gartner said. Manufacturers could ship as many as 50 million of the devices in 2012.
Gartner defines mini-notebooks as devices that run a full version of a client operating system, such as Windows XP or Linux, and have screen sizes ranging from 5 inches to 10 inches. The research firms places mini-notebooks in a separate category from what Gartner calls "micro-information devices," which are mobile computers with a screen size of 3 inches to 5 inches.
The demand for mini-notebooks will be driven by their small size, light weight, ease of use, their basic, but sufficient, PC functionality, and low cost, Gartner said. Buyers are most likely to use the devices for Internet browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, and storing and sharing pictures and other content.
"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," Gartner research director Annette Jump said in a statement released Tuesday.
Mini-notebooks typically sell for less than $500. Manufacturers include Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and MSI Computer.
The devices were originally introduced as low-cost education PCs. However, since the end of last year, the targeted audience has expanded to consumers in both mature and emerging markets and a few business buyers, Gartner said.
Consumers are expected to eventually account for about 70% of all mini-notebook sales, Gartner said. The devices, however, are not expected to cannibalize sales of other notebooks this year or next year, because of the significant performance gap.
That could change by 2010, when higher-performing mini-notebooks could snatch sales from low-end mobile PCs, Gartner said. Starting in 2011, the number of units of mini-notebooks could also increase in businesses, if the performance increases significantly and the devices prove attractive to general business users.