Apple's CES absence doesn't blunt laptop presence

Apple the company was absent from CES this year, but its products weren't. The new MacBook Airs were popular. The PC, meanwhile, was well represented by Netbooks.

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
2 min read

Even though Apple the company is a traditional no-show at the Consumer Electronics Show, its new MacBook Airs were there in force. And on the PC side of the ledger, plenty of attendees were packing Netbooks, too.

After traversing the acres and acres of show floor space at the Las Vegas Convention Center last week for three days, I noticed a trend among attendees. In the rare pockets of open space where people actually found space to sit down, I saw the new MacBook Air again and again (the wedge design of the new 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch models is pretty easy to spot). That was surprising to me, considering the new Airs were only released in October.

(And it made me feel slightly obsolete, as I was carrying around older first- and second-generation Airs in my bag.)

The MacBook Air was conspicuous at CES, even if Apple the company was absent.
The MacBook Air was conspicuous at CES, even if Apple the company was absent. Apple

I would bet that among the tens of thousands of CES attendees this year, the MacBook (including the larger MacBook and MacBook Pro) was near the top as the single most popular line of laptops at the show. That's just a guess, of course, but the empirical evidence was pretty strong.

That said, you can never discount the ThinkPad line, however, which is prevalent internationally and has amazing staying power, particularly among corporate types, who can still be seen with ThinkPads bearing the IBM branding.

And the oft-ridiculed (as in, "it's too slow!") Netbook. Any doubts I had about the popularity of Intel Atom-based Netbooks among the CES crowd were quickly laid to rest on Wednesday at the Venetian Hotel (where many meetings and events were held). There were so many people clutching Netbooks that I had to buttonhole a few to find out what they liked about the ultrasmall laptop. To a person, they said that it served its purpose: light, easy to carry around, and adequate performance for what they need to do.

This trend also carried over to the Convention Center. Netbooks were easy to spot there too. And the design was also heavily promoted at the Microsoft, Intel, and Samsung booths. Which raises the question, will the iPad and other tablets really cannibalize the Netbook this year? Maybe not as much as some analysts believe. Long live the built-in physical keyboard!