Analyst: Netbook numbers, price still beat iPad

A lot of tablets--mostly iPads--will ship this year, but Netbook shipments should still outnumber tablets roughly 4 to 1, according to ABI Research.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
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A new report from ABI Research estimates that over 11 million tablets--mostly iPads--will ship this year but also argues for a reality check on the iPad's popularity in the context of Netbook shipments.

Netbooks are still popular--just not seeing the meteoric growth of the past couple of years.
Netbooks are still popular--just not seeing the meteoric growth of the past couple of years. Hewlett-Packard

That figure echoes an earlier report from ABI, but today's report doesn't offer the usual market-vanquishing assessment vis-a-vis the Netbook that other analysts are advancing.

Netbook shipments should reach 43 million worldwide this year, ABI said. "Apple has sold a few million iPads in its first quarter, which is great for creating a new market," wrote ABI Research principal analyst Jeff Orr in a note today. "But early adoption of media tablets is not outpacing Netbooks. The iPad average selling price above $650 isn't driving mass adoption. Competition, especially on price, is needed."

Orr said in a phone interview that the iPad's price points "make it a luxury item." And the holiday season? "Going into a holiday buying season there may be some surprises for media tablets, but I'm not seeing it," Orr said.

Historically, looking back to 2008--the first year that Netbooks really came into vogue--Orr puts Netbook shipments at 15 million, which is close to numbers cited by other market research firms. So, that would put the Netbook ahead of the iPad in the first year of mass adoption. And, similar to the iPad--which didn't ship until April of this year--the Netbook didn't really take hold until after the the first Atom processors were announced in March 2008. Later in 2008, Atom-based Netbooks finally began to trickle out from large PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

And this figure roughly doubled in 2009 to 30 million Netbooks shipped. The 43 million figure, if it proves to be accurate, means the market won't double in 2010 but it would still be a healthy increase. "43 million netbook shipments are good growth, just not the meteoric pace of the past couple of years," Orr wrote. And Intel executives expressed similar sentiment during this week's earnings conference call. "Netbooks today are primarily a mature market," said Stacy Smith, Intel chief financial officer, on Tuesday.

In a related news, a report today from DisplaySearch offers the more conventional view that the iPad may catapult Apple to a top five computer brand globally. "The iPad boom might change everything. Apple could not only surpass Asus, Toshiba and Lenovo by becoming a top 5 mobile PC brand--it could also threaten Dell's #3 position," the report said.