While many eyes are on E3, Taiwan's Computex conference is more quietly generating some interesting news on the future of Netbooks and laptops that will eventually make their way stateside. For a peek into the crystal ball of mobile computing, let's take a look at what's been announced in Taipei, Taiwan, this week.
Mobile-phone-based Netbooks are growing: "Smartbooks," as they're being called by companies like Qualcomm, seem to be this year's Netbook. It's mostly a naming convention shift: ARM processors based on smartphone chips, like Qualcomm's Snapdragon, were demoed on Asus Eee PC Netbooks--running Android, no less. While Snapdragon competitor Freescale Semiconductor, who makes an ARM-based iMX515 processor, predicts hybrid Smartbooks that will look like tablets, others see them being even more portable Netbooks.
Regardless of the processor, companies are finally announcing the release of honest-to-goodness Android Netbooks, running a laptop-based version of the Google-created smartphone OS, later this year. Acer took the leap by confirming their release of Android Netbooks by the third quarter of this year, suddenly accelerating the "Android on Netbooks" argument we've been having on CNET. Is Android really a better OS solution? The point may be moot for laptop manufacturers such as Acer who are also entering the smartphone space, and are mostly likely interested in targeting Google for an across-the-board mobile OS option on their future devices. According to Acer, "a majority" of their Netbooks will run Android as an alternative to Windows.
Where does this leave Linux, then? In a tough place. Linux's relatively brandless environment has been a challenge in an app-store world, although this week's RealNetworks' announcement of RealPlayer being preinstalled on Linux Netbooks and Instant-On OS platforms is a big step for Ubuntu being able to keep up with the easy media-playing capability of Netbook machines, and adds some brand recognition and codec consolidation. Shown at Computex were several Moblin Linux-based Netbook prototypes, as well the announcement of Ubuntu Moblin Remix, the next graphical interface evolution beyond Ubuntu and a possible candidate for an OS specifically geared towards ultramobile PCs such as Netbooks.
Future technology for screens, touch pads: Regardless of whether Apple gets into the Netbook space, Windows Netbooks are heading toward MacBook-like touch pad interfaces. Synaptics' ClickPad version of their next multitouchpad was shown off this week, being targeted mainly at future Netbooks with smaller keyboard areas. Finding a way to fit buttons into small Netbook frames has been a challenge, and going button-free would also allow the touch pad to be made even larger. Whether Windows 7 supports the ClickPad as well as Apple supports their MacBook single-button multitouchpad remains to be seen. And, taking a page from the easy-to-read reflective e-ink screens of e-readers, Pixel Qi demonstrated a highly reflective LCD screen on an Acer Netbook that can be used in daylight with no backlighting. The hybrid screen can switch between e-readeresque and full-colored brightly backlit states for battery conservation.
Intel, Microsoft ready to leave Netbooks behind? As Intel continues supporting their Core 2 Duo-equivalent CULV energy-efficient mobile processors, the focus on Atom seems to be waning. That's not the case, according to Intel, especially with new Atom processors on the horizon, but the market's getting crowded fast. Microsoft has also said that they'd rather not use the Netbook name anymore, choosing "low cost small notebook PC" instead. As ULV and CULV processors take over the mobile Centrino space to create lower-cost, thinner laptops, and smartphone-evolved ARM processors begin to chip away at the Atom-based Netbook category, the days of Netbooks as we knew them may already be numbered.
We have our wish list of what we'd like to see in future Netbooks, and some of those already seem to be coming true.