Netbooks – India’s PC Superking?

Will netbooks cause the much awaited PC penetration in India? Will they do to India’s PC penetration what Nokia’s Rs. 1000 phone did to the mobile penetration? Maybe…it kind of brings about the third level of convergence – consumer, computation and communication – which has been the holy grail, so far – with the most affordable, feature rich and mobile solution, so far. So lets take a look at who is the target customer, who are the players raking in the moolah from the trend and what are the challenges…

Target Market Segments and what they want?

By the very definition of the product it is 7-10.1in screen size and light weight with basic application support (like word/excel etc.) as well as internet connectivity. All major and non-major brands are offering netbooks in India – including Dell, HP, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Sony, Samsung and MSI. Keeping these in mind, we can define, three broad segments for netbooks (or nettops which is the low priced desktop version) – jetsetting business professionals, students (especially non-IT), first time PC users (like homemakers). These three segments are unique and divide the applications and price segments neatly.

For the Business Professionals the netbook will be a travel-lite option and in addition to their existing laptop, home computer and blackberry. So application sync up, easy and seamless access to content, long battery life (especially during travel), several kinds of wireless support etc. will be key applications and price might not be a major concern whether it is a personal purchase or a corporate one. This will be a predominantly netbooks segment with intense competition from low end, ultra portable, light weight, long battery life notebooks, as price is not a key differentiator in this market.

For the Student community – price and “cool” applications like touchscreen, enhanced gaming capabilities, access to collaboration tools/peer sharing applications might be key. This will be a predominantly netbooks segment and even for a $100 differential between low end notebooks it might stick with the netbooks market. While, for the first time notebook users, like homemakers – price, easy and intuitive access of basic word/excel/internet applications might be key. This segment may not be excessively mobile and might be the driver for nettops as much as netbooks.

Who are the main players?

The overall worldwide netbooks market stands at 13.2MU in 2008. Acer is the market leader in this market, with about 5MU sold in 2008 and Asus is close behind, as per iSuppli here. Intel and Via are the major IC suppliers in the netbooks market, while other players like AMD, ST Microelectronics, Nvidia etc. fight for market share.

What are the roadblocks?

Given the low pricing, optimized feature set and long battery life, the only thing that can limit the roaring success of netbooks would be availability and lack of an evangelist mission that will make the non-PC customers aware and interested enough to open up their purses.

There are a few substitutes in the form of products and business models on the horizon…ranging from products like IP STBs (and some black box kind of system solutions) that use the TV as a display module and enable dual function of entertainment and access/manipulation of content. Their winning mantra is easy to use interface – similar to a TV remote and an optional keyboard/mouse, if required along with private servers to serve specialized content to the users – however, players like Airtel and ACT have not seen a huge bout of success yet and also given the nature of their direct competition like Cable TV and DTH which have a good mindshare with customers. A few telecom players, like Reliance, had created bundled offers providing netbook with 3G connection based on a monthly subscription model, however, they have not met with huge success yet.

It remains to be seen if any of these models will take off with any of the segments mentioned above and what the optimum balance of feature and price will be that will catapult them to the #1 position.

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