This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. PT to reflect Dell's announcement of partnering with Vodafone.
A year after the Asus Eee PC began aggressively marking territory in the low-cost notebook business, the second-biggest PC maker in the world is finally ready with an answer.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 will be formally announced Thursday, as CNET News reported Tuesday. It's Dell's first foray into the Netbook category--undersize notebooks powered by Intel's Atom processor.
Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and seemingly hundreds of lower-tier players jumped in months ago to what has been certainly the most interesting development in the PC business in some time. But is it too late for Dell to make a meaningful impact in the category? Furthermore, is it even necessary for Dell to participate?
Whether this category has much potential for significant growth depends on who you ask. Gartner is predicting 5.2 million Netbooks will sell this year, but reach 50 million in 2012. Rival firm IDC has a vastly different view: 3.5 million this year, 5 million next year, and 9.2 million by 2012.
The category can be confusing for the average PC user. A Netbook is essentially a notebook form factor shrunk down, but these devices don't act as the average PC user would expect. It has a smaller screen, smaller keyboard, lower storage capacity, among other things.
That's why Dell is taking pains to reframe consumers' expectations of this type of device, and is throwing in a few different options.
"We didn't build a small PC, we built an ultramobile device," said John Thode, vice president of small-screen consumer devices for Dell. "It does a lot of PC functions, but its intent was not to emulate a PC in every aspect."
Managing the expectations consumers have of a device in this category is a good idea, but it doesn't change the fact that it falls into the category of a Netbook. (CNET Reviews like what the Mini 9 offers as a Netbook, and for a full rundown of the specs, plus a hands-on review, see here.)
Price is the other reason for the reframing.… Read more