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Netbook surge marks turn in PC market

Analyst ABI is predicting a confluence of market events will boost netbook sales over the next five years, marking a new era in the PC market.

ABI Research has declared the time is right for the netbook, predicting that 35 million of them will be shipped worldwide this year alone.

The analyst said a confluence of social and technological factors has created a kind of "perfect storm" that will lead to a market explosion for the mini laptops over the next few years.

Kevin Burden, ABI Research practice director, said the market opportunity created by the ultra-portable laptop began with the widespread adoption of the personal digital assistant (PDA).

"PDAs began our reliance on instant accessible data while travelling," he said. "When PDA functionality converged with mobile voice, smartphones became the new darling of mobile professional technology. Today, with a better understanding for what a smartphone is, is not, and may never be, the market remains open for new device types."

The average netbook's moderate pricing in comparison to full desktop or laptop PCs, in addition to its lightweight, medium-sized form factor and low-cost x86 and ARM processors, position it as a 'right-sized' mobile technology for productive travel, according to the researcher.

As a result, ABI predicted global netbook sales would continue to increase rapidly, growing nearly fourfold in the next five years to an estimated 139 million in 2013.

Burden added: "In recent years, the industry still expected the smartphones to be more than they turned out to be, and most recently, MIDs [mobile Internet devices] were thought to be the next big mobile devices segment, but an unclear usage model continues to confuse the market. So today, netbooks' time has come, and we expect them to enjoy very strong market growth."

The research follows on from growing fourth-quarter 2008 netbook shipment figures reported by Gartner. It said they outpaced overall growth in the mobile PC market to make the netbook the must-have item during the Christmas 2008 shopping season.

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