updated 11:40 pm EST, Mon December 27, 2010
Netbook upgrades, cuts not enough to stop tablets
Netbook prices are dropping to the point where cost is increasingly the only factor in trying to stave off tablets like the iPad, industry observers said Monday night. Using prices in the netbook field's Taiwanese home turf as an example, a 10-inch, single-core ASUS Eee PC had been cut to a relatively low $288 to create a wider price gap with tablets while most others were down to $339. Even attempts by ASUS to keep features up weren't working in Digitimes' checks, as the dual-core Eee PC 1015PEM was still down to $407.
Sources claimed that end user demand was low enough that more netbook designers were going go to carrier bundles, where the price was subsidized even further. As providers were themselves turning to tablets, however, the entire netbook industry was at risk of a shakeout. Predictions were such that even major netbook builders like MSI might be forced out of competition while only dominating companies like Acer and ASUS were going to survive in the category.
Tablets of various kinds were nonetheless still expected to keep growing, moving up to 20 million in 2010 alone and as many as 40 million in 2011. The estimates may themselves be conservative, as analysts were initially expecting less than half as many tablets in estimates from the spring.
Many of the tablets cutting into netbook sales will be Apple's for the foreseeable future and see the iPad hold on to its lead through at least 2011. Companies like Acer, ASUS and MSI may eventually get sales back if Android gains significant share, but many of these firms won't have the option of using a truly optimized Android interface until Honeycomb arrives, which might not be earlier than March.