You Say Netbook, I Say Outsized Cell Phone

While netbooks still comprise less than 10% of the PC market, their popularity is growing swiftly. Market reserach firm In-Stat came out with a report yesterday predicting that, three years from now, 31% of all notebooks will be sold through the mobile network operators. Essentially, they're predicting that we'll buy netbooks the same way we buy cell phones now-- at subsidized prices in exchange for multi-year service contracts.

NetbookI'm frankly surprised their estimate isn't higher. Within five years, I have to think the netbook/laptop distinction will be gone, and it will be effectively impossible to buy a new laptop that doesn't have mobile connectivity. These new devices will blur the line between smartphone and laptop, and the evolution of 4G data networks means that you won't have to compromise: portability and ubiquitous high-speed web access will meld seamlessly with the computing power we expect in today's personal computers. Can't. Wait. For. The. Future.

This is, as I've said before, particularly good news for people in the developing world. Just as cell networks have quickly leapfrogged landlines throughout most of Africa, Asia, and South America, 3G and 4G data networks are bound to arrive most places sooner than a fiber-optic cable connection to the global ICT network. As networks expand, more and more people will access the internet for the first time using netbook-type devices, and enjoy the same benefits of speed that I do, wired up in Washington, DC.