Will Smart Phones Kill Netbooks? (No. They Won't.)

Thanks, John, for sending me this link.

Smart phones are great. But I’m not going to blog on my Blackberry. Reading texts from my mom is easy, but I’d rather not read a New Yorker story she emails to me on a 1.5”-by-1.5” screen. The ability of smart phones to do pretty much everything doesn’t mean they obviate other tools — the same way owning a Swiss Army Knife doesn’t obviate a better corkscrew or pair of scissors. For my money (literally) netbooks are here to stay. —The Atlantic

A netbook is high on my gift-to-myself list, but also high on my wife’s I-can’t-believe-you’d-spend-money-on-that list. A full-size laptop gets heavy in my shoulder bag when I’m on the road, but if I want to blog a conference, I really need the full keyboard (and access to a power outlet).  I think I can adjust to the smaller keyboard (and longer battery life) of a netbook.

My Palm PDA was cutting edge when I bought it in 2003, but I am not a heavy phone user. That will likely change as my kids head into their teenage years, but for now I’m happy using my TracFone in place of a long-distance service, and a landline for local calls.   When an Apple rep came to our campus a month or so ago, he admitted that the iPhone wouldn’t be a great purchase in our area due to the spotty 3G coverage, so if I were to upgrade my PDA it wouldn’t be to a smartphone, it would be to an iPod Touch.

I very much enjoy my new Kindle, but when I use it, I’m sometimes conscious of thinking how much better the experience would be on a color touch screen.  When I read for work, I still prefer to mark up the pages with a pencil, and that means when I’m reading on the Kindle I am in a relaxed mode — reading to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, reading for pleasure, or to re-familiarizing myself with a classic text just before I teach it.  But the Kindle is not designed for note-taking or two-way interaction, so it doesn’t fill the gap a netbook might occupy.

I’ve been resisting writing anything about the rumored Apple tablet, since all I can find online are simply rumors.  I’m not sure I would want a slate if it didn’t come with a keyboard attachment — hunching over to use a virtual keyboard on a completely flat tablet would hurt my shoulders. If it consisted of two hinged screens, like a book, with one of them serving as a touch-screen virtual keyboard, that might be a Kindle-killer, and it would do things that a smartphone can’t.  But as Nick says in The Great Gatsby, “Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.”

2 thoughts on “Will Smart Phones Kill Netbooks? (No. They Won't.)

  1. Hi Dennis,
    Your comments on the affordances of netbooks when contrasted with smart phones were interesting. I have resisted buying a Kindle because of the black and white interface (the new Barnes and Noble Nook has a color screen I understand, but may have other limitations). I’ve also been waiting for pc netbooks to further drop in price, but it seems like they come out with an endless series of new models with slight variations in memory, screen size and operating systems (windows xp, windows vista, windows 7 starter, windows 7 home edition…), which tend to prevent that from happening. Most of my dissertation has been written on a laptop, but I don’t know if I’d try that on a netbook unless it had a minumum 90% of normal-sized keyboard. Finally, I know your presentation at 4C’s discusses cloud computing and I think that netbooks and smart phones clearly lend themselves more to online storage. Of course, you can always use a flash drive, but some people prefer online backup and the easy accessibility to data that cloud computing permits. For my money, the Apple IPod Touch might be the best option. You can always call using Skype if you get a data plan (with headphones and a mic), but I’m not sure if the subscription price would be as affordable or convenient as the Pay as you go Tracphone though. Lots of variables to consider when you consider a major purchase in this economy.

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