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Have Netbooks Had Their Day?

David Gilbert


Have Netbooks Had Their Day?

Tablet sales have grown hiugely in 2011, and while they may not have affected the continued growth of smartphones, they have dramatically affected the sales of desktop PCs, notebooks and especially netbooks.

Netbook sales dropped 25 per cent in 2011 according to new figures released by research company Canalys while tablets sales in the same period grew by a huge 274 per cent to 63 million units.

Desktop PC sales grew by just over 2 per cent while notebook shipments only grew by 7.5 per cent. Overall the PC market grew by 15 per cent but so large was the growth in tablet sales, if they were removed from the equation the PC market barely grew at all - giving credence to Steve Jobs prediction last year that we are now in a "post-PC era."

“In 2011 we saw a fall in demand for netbooks, and slowing demand for notebooks and desktops as a direct result of rising interest in pads,” said Chris Jones, Canalys VP and Principal Analyst. “But pads have had negligible impact on smart phone volumes and markets across the globe have seen persistent and substantial growth through 2011."

Smartphone shipments continued to grow in 2011, seemingly unaffected by the rise in popularity of tablets. In total, 488m smartphones shipped across the globe in 2011, representing a growth of 62.7 per cent year-on-year. It also marked the first time smartphone shipments beat the total shipments of client PCs.

Last week we reported that Nokia continued to be the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world shipping 417m handsets in the last 12 months. In total IDC reported that just over 1.5 billion mobile phones shipped in 2011, including smartphones, feature phones and so-called dumb phones, highlighting the fact that smartphones are still a minor share of the total mobile phone market.

However, Canalys is expecting to see smartphone market growth slow in 2012 as vendors exercise greater cost control and discipline, and put more focus on profitability. "Notably, even vendors who have focused on conquering the low-end of the market with aggressive pricing, such as Huawei, ZTE and LG, are now placing greater attention on the higher tiers," a statement from Canalys said.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Apple became the best smartphone and best client PC vendor in the world, shipping 37m iPhones, 15.4m iPads and 5.2m Macs. Apple’s performance meant that it displaced Nokia, for the first time, as the leading smartphone vendor by annual shipments. Apple shipped 93m iPhones in 2011, representing growth of 96 per cent over 2010.

Samsung also had a great 2011, shipping a total of 92m handsets compared to just 25m in 2010. The 2011 figure even excludes rebranded handsets such as the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, which Canalys counts under the Google brand.

According to Canalys, the demise of RIM has been overplayed, with the company finishing the year as the fourth biggest smartphone vendor and recording a 5 per cent profit. “There is no denying that RIM has had a tough year,” said Canalys Principal Analyst, Pete Cunningham. “But when you consider that it is transitioning to a new platform it has done well to increase volume while remaining profitable; the latter point being something that many other vendors struggle with."

Looking at the platforms, Android is by far the largest with 49 per cent of the market compared to 19 per cent for iOS and 16 per cent for Symbian. Android smartphone shipments have grown 244 per cent year-on-year, to 238m handsets in 2011.

Source: Canalys

Tariq Pugh

February 6, 2012, 4:01 pm

Given that Canalys have lumped devices using phone OSes into the "Client PC" bracket shows how irrelevant this agency's viewpoint is on the tech sector. Makes me wonder how recently they removed scientific calculators from the mix.

As for calling them "pads" - Really Chris, really?

The numbers, however, make for interesting reading. And I reckon it'll get a whole lot more interesting when Windows 8 arrives.


February 6, 2012, 4:30 pm

I'm minded of that causation/causality illustration that shows global warming is responsible for the decline in number of pirates.

Just because tablet sales are up, doesn't mean this is responsible for the decline in netbook sales. Lets not forget we originally called netbooks SCC's, Small Cheap Computers. Feature creep has lead to a price increase so the netbook now costs as much as a cheap laptop. I think that's much more likely to be responsible for the decline in sales than people buying tablets instead.


February 6, 2012, 8:37 pm

Yep, netbooks will be dead by 2014. Tablets are still very much in their infancy, and there's still a long way to go in terms of their evolution.

Martin Daler

February 6, 2012, 9:22 pm

Oh? But I thought it was now accepted that Global Warming was the cause of everything, and that everything we do is the cause of Global Warming.

On the whole I agree with your analysis - netbooks were always a quasi-distress purchase by those who could/would not afford a decent machine, and put up with rubbish in return for a cheap price, whereas tablets are mostly iPads or iWannaBees, bought by people with money to spare and the need for another iDevice to spend it on.

Netbooks just outgrew their roots and withered in the heat.

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