Complexity and cost
While the smart phone and the netbook are converging on the dimensions of system complexity and cost, at least two factors keep them relegated to separate market segments for now: form factor and power consumption.
Netbook PCs demonstrate a 50 percent smaller footprint than full-size notebooks. Further reductions in size would impose sacrifices in the usability of the keyboard and a cramped display--two key differentiators from smart phones.
As for smart phones, consumers expect to be able to place a phone handset unobtrusively in a pocket. At 6 cm x 12 cm, the Apple iPhone and the HTC Google Phone push the upper limit on acceptable cell phone size.
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The reductions in component count and die area from those of conventional laptops, combined with the movement to a solid-state disk drive and smaller display, have enabled the netbook PC to improve power consumption by more than 65 percent over previous generations of notebooks. Even with those power efficiency improvements, however, netbooks still require as much as 10 times the power for the same activity compared with smart phones from Apple and HTC.
Netbooks and smart phones occupy adjacent niches, but they will not truly compete head-to-head until the form- factor differential and the discrepancies in power consumption are reduced or eliminated.
Recent announcements of phones with built-in projectors, along with lower-power netbook platforms from Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm, may further blur the lines between smart phones and netbooks in the coming year.
Jeff Brown is principal analyst for data analysis and forecasting at Portelligent, a division of EE Times publisher TechInsights. Howard Curtis is vice president of global services at Portelligent.