With tablet PCs fast gaining acceptance among consumers as the mobile computer of choice for media consumption, what does one think netbook OEMs should do to restore the competitiveness of a product that appears to be fast approaching its 'use by' date? Well, ASUS apparently thinks that the answer is rather straightforward: make them cheaper.
In spite of what people might think, it is going to be quite hard to prove that tablet PCs have not started cutting into netbook sales, and for good reason. After all, tablets are definitely much more suited for consumers who prize mobility over functionality, and the fact that their price premium over the netbook is starting to narrow does not bode well for the humble, performance-limited netbook.
With this is mind, what measures are netbook OEMs taking to ensure that demand for their products remain stable? Well, sources close to "upstream component makers" are claiming that the Taiwanese OEM has got a rather simple answer to the netbook problem, and that is to simply make cheaper netbooks.
According to a report posted on DIGITIMES, ASUS is in the midst of co-operating with Intel on producing a new netbook that, when completed, will be released for retail at around US$200-US$250. In contrast, the current batch of netbooks available on the market can retail at prices ranging from approximately US$280 for a low-end configuration, or upwards of US$400 for more powerful variants, thus putting themselves in direct competition with tablet PCs retailing at near-identical price range. By avoiding the US$280-US$500 price bracket, DIGITIMES claims that ASUS is hoping to avoid direct confrontation with tablet PCs, thus making its netbooks more attractive to those who are seeking a highly mobile PC to use, but without the price premium found on tablets.
To achieve such prices, it is claimed that ASUS will also seek to avoid the 'Microsoft tax' altogether by dropping Windows as the default OS pre-loaded into the netbooks. Instead, ASUS will reportedly go for royalty-free, resource-light OSes such as Google's Android or Chrome OS. In a way, this makes perfect sense; after all, netbooks were never meant to be used as gaming heavy multimedia consumption machines. By using OSes not known to support heavy gaming, ASUS can not only save some money on the Microsoft tax, but also allow it to target consumers who seek to purchase a mobile PC for only basic tasks such as web surfing and word processing.
However, we should probably point out that with the current component shortage faced by manufacturers of NAND flash and display panels, both of which are key components in netbook assembly, users might want to take this information about a low-cost netbook with a pinch of salt.