Sony announced an ultraportable VAIO notebook Wednesday, complete with an 11.1-inch display, an Atom processor and built-in 3G networking. The company was quick to point out that the notebook isn’t a netbook.
But when we consider its specs with Sony’s recently announced W netbook series (or any other netbook on the market, for that matter), it’s far more similar to a netbook than a notebook. In fact, an argument can be made that Sony’s new VAIO X ultraportable is really a netbook by another name.
But why does Sony feel compelled to label the device as an “ultraportable?” It’s not like being a netbook is a bad thing.
According to a report from market analyst DisplaySearch, the portability and low price points on netbooks are starting to “cannibalize” notebook sales. In fact, netbook sales have been so strong, thanks in part to companies like Dell, HP, and Acer, that the entire notebook PC market posted strong gains over previous quarterly and annual figures. It seems that in today’s market, offering a netbook to end users seems like a smart plan.
But trying to decide if a particular computer is an ultraportable notebook or a netbook is becoming increasingly difficult. At one time, ultraportables and their 11- to 13-inch displays were easily distinguishable from the netbooks with 7-, 8- and 9-inch displays on the market.
But as netbooks have grown in popularity, so too have their screen sizes. Sony itself offers a 10-inch netbook. Dell decided recently to discontinue its 12-inch netbooks. That said, some companies, like HP, Acer, and Asus have enjoyed strong sales on their larger netbooks.
Comparing those products to ultraportables becomes even more difficult as we consider their specs. netbooks have Intel Atom processors. Ultraportables have Intel Atom processors. Ultraportables are starting to add 3G networking. Netbooks have 3G networking. At this point, even the price differences between the two product categories are so slight that it’s difficult for anyone to tell a difference.
So while the name of the product might not matter, it’s what it does that will matter. Company needs are changing. At one point, the idea of any company not using a desktop in their operation was outlandish.
Keeping an Eye on Netbooks
Now, any company that’s still tying employees down to a cubicle is behind the times. But as those companies have gone more mobile, their businesses have also evolved. Gone are the days of unending spreadsheets. Here are the days of cloud computing.
Today’s enterprise requires more than what a simple netbook or ultraportable notebook can deliver. Although the netbook is becoming a powerhouse in the market, it’s not necessarily captivating the business world. Those users need more than a lightweight computer with 3G networking.
Business users want the ability to handle several software packages at once. They want to be able to work in Word, while heading to the Cloud to input some information into a CRM. They need their computers to process graphics. And most importantly, they require security. They need to know that the data they’re transmitting from one point to another is safe and secure.
Netbooks or ultraportables don’t provide all those features. Yes, they are portable. Yes, many of them have the ability to connect to the Web from practically anywhere. Some are even capable of multitasking. But they don’t have the graphical prowess so many companies require. And worst of all, they don’t have the processing power to handle the local applications that companies are still employing in their operations. Simply put, they’re still not ready for the enterprise.
Just last week, I had a business meeting with a top-level exec at a prominent accounting firm. The exec told me that he purchased a couple netbooks for his employees and was pleasantly surprised by how useful they were. The only problem, he said, is that they couldn’t quite handle the needs of the company’s tax programs. Either way, he said that he planned to keep an eye on netbooks as they become more powerful.
I’m willing to bet that he isn’t alone. There are undoubtedly more executives that are wondering if the low-cost alternatives we know as netbooks are worth deploying instead of bulky, expensive notebooks. At this point, that answer is “no” for the vast majority of firms.
But as the line between ultraportable notebooks and netbooks continues to blur and vendors push the limits with what they can pack into netbooks, that might change. Companies might find more use for the technology. And soon, it could be notebooks, not just ultraportable notebooks, that will need to worry about netbooks.
But until then, companies should stick to notebooks and worry about netbooks when they become more capable of satisfying their desires. They’re just not there yet.