Netbook, laptop sales growth biggest in 8 years

Gartner says mobile PC growth during the first quarter of 2010 saw a jump of 43.4 percent over the same period a year ago.

Netbooks
Netbooks grew 71 percent during the first quarter of 2010, but are beginning to get squeezed by cheaper laptops. HP

Last year was one of the most discouraging for PC makers as consumers hit hard by the recession started pinching their pennies.

But 2010 saw a big reversal of last year's decline: Gartner released data on Tuesday that showed mobile PCs grew to just under 50 million units during the first quarter of 2010. That's an increase of 43.4 percent from the same quarter a year ago, good enough to be the best quarter for mobile PC makers in eight years.

The success of the category is in line with what Intel reported last month. Its profits jumped 433 percent for the first quarter, compared to the same period a year ago, mostly thanks to the strength of its mobile chip sales.

Though they did well, the first quarter of 2010 could also be the last hurrah for mininotebooks, or Netbooks. They saw a spike in growth of 71 percent from the same period a year ago, but in some geographic regions their sales are already beginning to slow. That's because consumers are "beginning to understand the limitations of mininotebooks, especially in the face of aggressive price cuts of regular notebooks," said Gartner analyst Mika Katagawa. The average mobile PC was sold for $732, compared to a year ago, when the average price was $868.

But cheaper laptops are not the only reason. Mininotebooks could also be getting squeezed by touch-screen tablets, which are priced close to mininotebooks. Lots of buzz surrounding Apple's iPad is also helping to attract a lot of attention to the new form factor for consumers. As of early May, Apple had sold 1 million iPads. IDC expects 7.6 million tablets to ship by the end of 2010, and for the category to hit 42 million units by 2014.

Gartner does not count devices like the iPad in the mobile PC category, however. It's included as a "media tablet" and is reported with statistics for mobile devices. That category is expected to see huge gains over the next year as the iPad and its competitors from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Asus, and others begin trickling into stores.

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