Apple iPad Helps Boost Smartbook Outlook

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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The arrival of Apple’s iPad is helping drive interest in smartbooks, with one researcher predicting a healthy outlook for this sector

Smartbooks have an increasingly bright future thanks in part to the arrival of devices such as Apple’s iPad, however ABI Research has warned in a new report that that Apple, Lenovo, and other manufacturers should not create a new product category for the devices.

“The idea of ‘a smartbook’ doesn’t resonate with anybody thinking of buying such a device,” Jeff Orr, an ABI senior analyst, said in a statement. “Vendors should avoid creating a separate market category with a new name, instead accepting that they are competing in an established category.”

A smartbook, according to ABI, is a “low-powered device running a mobile operating system that is always connected,” either by WiFi or, more frequently, a cellular or mobile broadband connection.

“Smartbooks can take many different shapes. They are a subset of MIDs (mobile Internet devices) and netbooks, and address the same potential users, usage, pricing, and market needs,” said Orr. “The difference is that they don’t use x86 processors.” (Most desktops and notebooks are built around x86 processors, which imply 32-bit software.)

ABI reports smartbooks have been emerging since 2008, and that major promoters of the form factor have been Qualcomm and Freescale, as well as Lenovo, Sharp and chip makers Texas Instruments and Nvidia.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Lenovo introduced the Skylight, an ultra-lightweight device featuring a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset platform, a full keyboard, a 10.1-inch screen and WiFi and 3G connectivity. It’s scheduled to arrive in April, with a starting price of $499 (£322).

In January, Hewlett-Packard also announced that it is working with Qualcomm on a smartbook, which will also have a 2010 release date.

By Orr’s definition of a smartbook, ABI expects 163 million of the devices to ship worldwide by 2015.

“Consumers hear about netbooks as alternatives to laptops and MIDs as alternatives to mobile phones, and can understand that,” said Orr. “We believe the best opportunity in this ultra-mobile device market lies in new form-factors.”

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