Will Chrome OS Solve the ‘Netbook Problem’?

CNET is reporting that Dell has put the Chrome OS on its Mini 10v Netbook. I believe the Google OS, targeted initially for netbooks, will succeed in that arena. Recall that Google said Chrome OS was a netbook OS and these devices were positioned as a “second computer.” 

Back in June NPD Group released results of a consumer survey of netbook owners in which it was reported that many were not happy with their machines:

  • Only 58 percent of consumers who bought a netbook instead of a notebook said they were very satisfied with their purchase, compared to 70 percent of consumers who planned on buying a netbook from the start. 
  • Satisfaction was even harder to ascertain among 18- to 24-year-olds, one of the main demographics manufacturers were hoping to win over with the new products.  Among that age group, 65 percent said they bought their netbooks expecting better performance, and only 27 percent said their netbooks performed better than expected. 
  • One marketing aspect that has interested buyers is the portability factor.  It’s been the key marketing tool for netbook manufacturers, and consumers agree that it is a great feature.  Sixty percent of them said that was a main reason they bought their netbooks.  However, once they got home, 60 percent of buyers said they never even took their netbooks out of the house.

The positioning of the Google/Chrome OS netbook as an “InterNetbook” and/or second machine will set expectations accordingly and avoid some of what was reported in the NPD survey above. Pricing will be key however.

As I argued previously, the devices need to be priced at less than $400 and probably below $300 to gain adoption — $200 would make them fly off the shelves (but would there be any quality there?). That will be the challenge unless they’re subsidized by mobile carriers. One interesting parallel scenario is Clearwire: I pay one price for my Internet at home but it extends to anywhere the 4G coverage exists in my city and beyond. 

Earlier this year we asked consumers over at Internet2Go (4/09, n=611) whether they would prefer a smartphone or a netbook as their mobile Internet device (if costs were the same). Here were the results:

  • Smartphone: 34%
  • Netbook: 27%
  • Neither: 13%
  • Unsure: 26%

I read these results to indicate that many people still are looking for a mobile Internet device that’s more full-featured than current smartphones. Internet-connected tablets may fit the bill there but they still need to solve the connection problem too.

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