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3 Generations of Netbooks – What Next?

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When Asus first introduced the Asus Eee PC 701 to the world at COMPUTEX Taipei 2007, we thought that the next computing craze would be small, cheap and light mini laptops. Fellow Tawaiianese competitor Acer stepped in with it's Acer Aspire One, MSI bought out the Wind, but no big brands yet stepped in. By the end of 2008, the HP 2133 mini-note and Dell Inspiron Mini 9 were on the scene. Slowly the bigger companies have all stepped in, although still overshadowed by the Linux dominated Asus / Acer duopoly.

However, Samsung and HP both brought out great new 10 inch models putting the Tawaiianese to shame – the Samsung NC10 and HP Compaq mini 700. Toshiba comes on the scene with its NB100 mini laptop – even Sony turned up with it's quintessential VAIO P Series' Lifestyle PC '. They seem to differentiate themselves from the earlier models. The specs are better, Windows XP is more prominent (the Samsung NC10 came out with just Windows XP, and it was a bestseller) but the size and price has crept upwards.

Now, as even newer models are hitting the shelves such as the Samsung NC120, Acer Aspire One 751 and Toshiba NB200 with even higher specs including integrated 3G enabling internet access wherever you can get mobile phone signal – provided you have a sim card. Incidentally, a strong partnership of 3G mobile broadband and mini laptops could show a completely new direction within the computing industry. Network providers go hand in hand with the mobile phone industry and like to provide phones for "free" on lucrative contracts. But so far the efforts to put laptops and netbooks on contract have been limited at most – yes, there are some contracts available around £ 20-30 per month including a free laptop. The range is limited, and more often than not the laptops do not have embedded sim cards, so you're stuck with a clumsy USB dongle – good for sharing but not much else.

But this looks all about to change as new mini laptops in the pipeline are coming with 3G sim embedded capabilities. That means you can simply enter a sim and surf, which could mean that the laptop contract market will suddenly become a whole lot more consumer friendly. What we like to call '3G mini laptops' – the third generation – could be ready to accept any sim card, possibly changing the face of network providers shops forever, filling out the wall space near the familiar mobile phones and BlackBerry's.

But what else can a new mini laptops provide? New models such as the Samsung NC310, Acer Aspire One 751 and Sony VAIO P Series have sorted out some of the fundamental flaws of the earlier models – the small "cramped" keyboards and interface, reliability, battery life, operating systems and more. Coming in 2010 is the new Windows 7 operating system which will adorn later models.

So have mini laptops reached their full potential? Possibly, but there's one iconic player in the computer market that has left the world of smaller, cheaper consumer laptops claiming that they "Do not know how to make a $ 500 laptop that is not a piece of junk." These are the words of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple. Apples typically take an existing product and giving it its touch of innovation. The iPod is now market leader in the music player industry, the iPhone has revolutionized the world of mobile phones, the Mac to a smaller extent has impacted the computer market, particularly among graphic intensive applications. Could Apple provide the same finish to a mini MacBook?

There have been numerous rumors regarding an Apple netbook, but some more fundamental evidence of a touchscreen type device combining a larger iPhone type console with the Mac operating system. Maybe Apple's entry into the market could turn the netbook market on its head.

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