Intel: The future of Netbook vs. notebook

Chipmaker says Netbook cannibalization of notebook PC sales is about 20 percent in Europe, according to a Reuters report. But the trend may ebb later this year.

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

Intel said Netbook cannibalization of notebook PC sales is about 20 percent in Europe, according to a news report Wednesday. But this trend may ebb later this year when the "affordable" ultra-thin laptop category takes off, leading to a cannibalization reversal of sorts.

Christian Morales, Intel's European sales chief, said Netbook sales were about 16 percent of all notebook sales globally, and a little higher in Western Europe, according to Reuters. "In Britain and Italy they may account for as much as a quarter of all notebook sales," he told Reuters.

Netbooks are small, inexpensive laptops--typically below $500--designed for Web browsing, email, and less-demanding media applications.

Intel Netbook share was about 16 percent in March of this year
Intel Netbook share was about 16 percent in March of this year. Intel

Intel's marketing chief, Sean Maloney, presenting at the company's investor meeting on May 12, said that the share of Atom processor-based Netbooks out of the total mobile PC market was about 16 percent in March. (See "Netbooks Mix of Mobile PCs" chart.) And he showed that the market share for Netbooks--month to month--hovers around 15 percent.

"The market has not all lept over to Netbooks," Maloney said at the meeting. "We're very comfortable with having established the (Netbook) category. We believe now that Netbooks are an under-distributed product line." Cannibalization, when it occurs, tends to affect low-end laptops based on Celeron processors, he said. "Atom is eating into Celeron. And we're quite fine with this," Maloney said.

Intel's ramp of inexpensive ultra-thin CULV laptops may eat into Netbook sales
Intel's ramp of inexpensive ultra-thin "CULV" laptops may eat into Netbook sales Intel

Then later in his presentation, alluding to Intel Consumer Ultra-Low-Voltage (CULV) chips due to appear in inexpensive laptops starting in June, he said that this is "an opportunity for upsell. We don't need to give this stuff away. The industry doesn't need to give this stuff away. We can reach new price points and we can also get paid for it." CULV processors will be based, to a large extent, on Intel's Core 2 architecture, which offers better performance than the Atom chips used in Netbooks.

Maloney's comments imply that CULV-based laptops will offer stiff competition for Netbooks, especially high-end Netbooks priced above $400. Many CULV notebooks should fall into the $599 to $799 price range--the upper range of Netbooks--according to Ashok Kumar, an analyst at investment bank Collins Stewart. And some major PC makers expect CULV to become one third of total latop sales by next year, Kumar said.

Though no one can forecast how popular these new inexpensive thin laptops (think: MSI X-Slim series or a hypothetical $800-$900 Apple MacBook Air) will be, Intel is obviously expecting the category to take off. (See "Ultra-Thin Affordable Volume Ramp" chart.)

Maloney said growth markets for Netbooks are children--he said this market is still under-served--as well as Netbook bundles with telecommunications service providers. Verizon, for example, is now offering Hewlett-Packard Netbooks with 3G functionality built in.