Social Netbooks and ARM’s Lock-In Netbook Opportunity.

Posted on 19 February 2010, Last updated on 11 March 2010 by

Lock-in?

I’ve outlined four features above and used the expression ‘lock-in.’ These features are to many, features that they won’t want to trade away from once they’ve used them. Not only do these features define the social netbook, they also lock the user in and prevent them going back to a Wintel netbook.

Ask any app-store user if they would trade 100% more CPU power and Open Office for their app store and most will say no. Ask any smartphone user if they would give-up their location-based search features for Firefox and again, most will say no. Ask any smartphone user if they would accept a voice-only standby mode for 2x battery life and again, many say no. Even if customers aren’t aware of these features, if you take them away, they notice. And remember, you don’t need all of these features in a product to lock a customer in. Only one or two of them are necessary.

The fact is that these unique features will make customers stick and Intel need to respond to each and every one of these features.

Today’s Reality

Today’s reality is that netbooks are selling millions and ARM-based ‘smart’ devices are still a risky, fledgling market. The netbook design-to-market process is efficient and low-risk and prices for ‘desktop’ netbooks are likely to remain lower that ARM-based competitors for a long time. The reality is also that most netbook users choose them for low-end, table-based productivity and not just to be part of Foursquare. They simply aren’t mobile or social. But is that because they don’t want to be, or can’t?

Android on an ARM-based mini-laptop needs a lot of development time before it can compete either in mobile or tabletop scenarios. There is no ‘Google’ Android for non-voice products. There’s no Google app-store for non-voice products. Email and contact syncing even needs to be done through third party applications. High-quality productivity apps are few and far between. These are gaping holes and big issues for the ARM community.

Today’s reality is that Intel-based netbooks are selling like hotcakes and there isn’t a single ARM-based product that competes.

Airlife 100 and Google

Watch out for the Compaq Airlife 100. Its the first product I’ve seen that attempts to bring all the advantages of ARM and Android together in a single netbook-style product and it’s an indicator that large brands are moving forward quickly with products and already understand the key selling points of an ARM-based device. If Google were to turn round tomorrow and start authorizing Android marketplace and Google applications for these platforms then you’ve got a perfect storm. The Android operating system becomes, like the iPhone OS, an operating system that spans many markets and it becomes extremely attractive to developers. But only if Google flick that switch. OEMs i’ve spoken to are hopeful that it will happen but Google are holding back for now.

Intel Know.

Intel aren’t stupid right? Everything I’ve written about above is something that they’ve known about for many years. Moblin and MeeGo are the indicators that they already knew what was needed on the software platform and Moorestown and ‘power-gating’ are indicators that they known what is needed in terms of hardware. Nokia are also on their side. They clearly share research and data about usage models and lets face it, there are some incredibly intelligent futurists in both companies. Damn, I wish I could get some of them to write guest posts here!

Intel have until their next ‘tick’ in 2011 to rise up and respond to these challenges because that’s about how long it will take for OEMs to refine their ARM-based consumer products. I don’t expect all netbooks sales to move to this ‘dynamic OS’ , ‘always on’ model because many people are only using netbook for productivity but if you think about what Intel netbooks are aiming to be, the always-on usage model seems to make so much more sense than a scenario where you are forced to  disconnect from the ‘net.’

Summary.

There’s a space for ARM-based netbooks in the market that will have unique and lock-in features. Social netbooks (and related tablets and MIDs) will be ARM’s territory until Intel can catch-up and offer equivalent features. If Google enables the marketplace for these devices, the space becomes even more interesting for ARM as the flood-gates open to a new wave of application development for social, entertainment and productivity scenarios. In this case, the Wintel proposition loses some of its shine and will lose significant percentage points. It’s possible that, combining unique, lock-in features with a Google Marketplace we could see a large percentage of the Intel-base netbook market fall to the ARM community. Intel need to ready M(eeGo)intel and a new netbook processing platform as soon as possible in order to be able to fight in this important market.

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