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Did the tablet kill the smartbook?

Lenovo's Skylight has been delayed, and news on smartbooks in general has evaporated. What's become of last year's short-lived trend-word? Is the iPad the culprit?

Does anyone care about smartbooks anymore?

Back at CES 2010, we saw two parallel trends developing: a renaissance of touch-screen tablets and slates, and a series of smaller-than-Netbook laptops called "smartbooks" that promised to have automatic 3G, simplified operating systems and very slim profiles.

Well, so far one has come to fruition (thanks largely to the iPad), whereas the other has gone into a state of hibernation.

Lenovo's recent announcement that its "Skylight" smartbook and U1 hybrid tablet/laptop would be delayed underlines the sudden lack of momentum smartbooks have suffered. Lenovo claims it's due to an OS switch from proprietary Linux-based software to Android, but so far at Computex we've heard next to nothing about smartbooks, whereas last year there was a landslide of boasting on the topic.

Instead, even more tablet news abounds from all sectors.

Maybe we never (that is to say, "we" meaning the public) cared about smartbooks. They looked similar to laptops, particularly Netbooks, and what made them different was often hard to explain, even for the manufacturers of those prototypes.

It's enough to make us sigh. Not because an opportunity's been missed, but because we don't really see the point of smartbooks anymore.

  • First, any smaller-than-a-Netbook device is bound to either have a compromised, uncomfortable keyboard, or a keyboard that's so big it makes the device's dimensions skew wide and shallow. The beauty of a tablet is that its dimensions can be flexible: a touch interface can adapt easily to any size device, from smartphone up to iPad.
  • Second, any tablet with a keyboard can essentially become a smartbook. We've used Bluetooth keyboards with the iPad and enjoyed the combination. All someone needs to do is offer a thin (not giant) case with a lightweight, superthin keyboard attached and we'll be set.
  • Third, it's not as if smartbooks had any significant OS advantage over tablets: most smartbook prototypes were running Android or some other smartphone-like closed OS that ran off apps or Web apps. Users would still be limited to the selection of software offered from the app marketplace.
Though we were excited about laptops that could detach from their keyboards back at CES, it now seems equally plausible that we'll simply see keyboard-free devices that can easily attach external keyboards. Same concept, different angle.

Is that what's in the works from here on in? Are you at all still interested in upcoming smartbooks, such as Lenovo's delayed Skylight? Let us know in the comments below.