In 2007 Asus introduced the ‘eee’ and cornered an emerging market in mobile technology – Netbooks. Catering to those with a web based computing style, netbooks offer the maximum compromise between power and portability. Recently though, smartphones have begun to encroach on that same market.
Although many view them simply as small laptops, netbooks marked a real shift towards cloud computing. With most of their media storage and application handling done online, netbooks were streamlined for efficiency (the first Asus ran on a Linux distro) and size. However, many new smartphones are getting close in terms of specs and have the added benefit of an “always on” 3G network. Aided also by the popularity of the Android OS, smartphones are now becoming real competition for netbooks and consumers are beginning to view their “phone” purchase as a hunt for a compact, mobile computer that can also make calls.
When looking at the online shopping behavior of netbook researchers it’s clear that many of those shoppers are now considering devices other than netbooks to fulfill their needs. One model that has retained popularity since its release in 2008 is the Aspire One netbook by Acer. This model is one of several offered by AT&T which are sold alongside 2 year contracts for data plans for connectivity over AT&T’s 3G network. By studying the cross shopping behavior of people who researched the Aspire One at AT&T, we can gain insight onto this changing market. “Cross shopping” is the percentage of overlap an online researcher spends between devices; in other words, “if a consumer is researching a device online, what other devices are they also looking at?”
As expected the Aspire One researchers are also looking into other netbooks like the HP Mini 110 and the Samsung Go. However, most of the list is made up of OS driven handsets, including Apple’s hugely popular iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS, as well as Palm’s Pixi Plus. After a summer of new phone releases, Aspire One researchers appear to have broadened their search. We see similar behavior for another popular netbook model on AT&T, the HP Mini 110.
Smartphones have a strong presence on both lists, with 13% of Aspire One shoppers and 11% of Mini 110 shoppers also considered the iPhone 4. Samsung’s Captivate smartphone held 15% of Mini 110 shoppers as well. The Pantech Ease also appears in the running and even though it’s not technically a smartphone, the proprietary OS is packed with widgets and its large screen and qwerty keyboard offer an entertainment and web browsing experience comparable to a netbook. Samsung’s a777 however, offers none of these key features although its inclusion here is easily explained by its high placement on AT&T’s “Phones Starting at Free” list. Smartphones not only offer 3G mobile web browsing but also mobile entertainment and file storage in an interface that feels less like an inconveniently small computer and more like a conveniently powerful phone. This past month’s insights are reflected equally in the preceding months, indicating a strong behavioral trend rather than a one-month spike of interest – smartphones are increasingly in the consideration set for netbook shoppers at the carrier sites. This trend is capitalized on by yet another device; tablets, which combine the functionality and interface of smartphones with the scale and specs of netbooks. With the iPad now available through both Verizon and AT&T, it’s easy to imagine most home computing being done in the cloud with the wireless carriers replacing our home ISPs.
In this changing market, consumers are taking the time to explore their new options. The mobile web market will undoubtedly be affected greatly by Google’s upcoming release of Chrome OS which will only be available preinstalled on proprietary hardware from Google (http://chromeos-blog.com/). We’ll have to wait and see if that device is a netbook, smartphone, or something more difficult to pin down.