Netbook was a commonly used term that identified a product class of small and inexpensive laptops which were sold from 2007 to around 2013. These machines were designed primarily as cost-effective tools for consumers to access the Internet from any location before the widespread advent of smartphones, and as a result, generally had lower-end hardware specifications than consumer laptops of the time, being primarily intended as clients for Internet services.
While the name "netbook" has fallen out of use, these machines evolved into other products that remain important in the computing industry. Google's Chromebook project, a web-oriented laptop supporting lower hardware specifications and made by several hardware manufacturers, is much like the netbook. The role of the netbook for cheap Internet access also survives in mobile devices, particularly tablet computers, which often run mobile operating systems such as iOS or Android, but can run others such as Microsoft Windows or ChromeOS.
At their inception in late 2007 as smaller-than-typical laptop computers optimized for low weight and low cost, netbooks began appearing without certain then-standard laptop features (such as an optical drive), and with smaller screens and keyboards, and less computing power than in full-sized laptops. Over the course of their evolution, netbooks have ranged in size from below 5" screen diagonal to 12". A typical weight was 1 kg (2.2 pounds). Often significantly less expensive than other laptops, by mid-2009, netbooks were often offered by some wireless data carriers "free of charge", with an extended service-contract purchase.Soon after their appearance, netbooks grew in size and features, and converged with smaller laptops and subnotebooks. By August 2009, when comparing two Dell models, one marketed as a netbook and the other as a conventional laptop, CNET called netbooks "nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks", noting: "the specs are so similar that the average shopper would likely be confused as to why one is better than the other", and "the only conclusion is that there really is no distinction between the devices". At their peak, the light weight and portability of netbooks, coupled with expanding Internet access, led to their controlling a significant portion of the laptop computer market.
In response to this observed convergence, in an attempt to prevent harming sales of the more lucrative laptops in their lineup, manufacturers imposed several constraints on the hardware included in their netbooks, which had the unintended effect of pushing netbooks into a market niche where they had few distinctive advantages over traditional laptops or the newly emerging tablet computer.By 2011, the increasing popularity of tablet computers (particularly the iPad), which offered a different form factor, but with improved computing capabilities and lower production cost, had led to a decline in netbook sales among budget consumers. At the same time, the emergence of Ultrabooks, ultra-light laptops with the dimensions and hardware specifications of high-end laptops, most notably the MacBook Air, allowed higher-end consumers to make fewer sacrifices for a lightweight laptop, albeit at a considerably higher production cost, which further ate into the market share of the netbook. Following the success of the MacBook Air, Intel promoted the "Ultrabook" name and product class as a new high-mobility standard for laptop computers, which some analysts predicted would succeed in markets where netbooks had failed.As a result of these two new rapidly expanding product categories, netbooks, less portable and easy to use than tablet computers and less performant than ultrabooks, rapidly lost market share, with price as their only obvious strong suit by roughly 2011.By the end of 2012, few new laptops were marketed as "netbooks", and the term disappeared from common usage. The concept of a cheap laptop made primarily for accessing the Internet, however, is at the core of Google's highly successful Chromebook project, whose low-spec Internet-centered laptops command a large and growing segment of the laptop market as high speed broadband access has become more prevalent and widespread and Internet-based services offer more functionality once limited to local applications.
By 2014, most laptops that fit the definition of "netbook" were Chromebooks. Other machines that fit this definition included certain of the HP Essential laptops and various palmtop computers for specialized purposes, such as the GPD Win series of palmtops, which included controls for applications such as portable video gaming.
While these laptops and devices are often considered successors to, descendants of, or continuations of the netbook product class, the word "netbook" is now a historical term, usually solely referring to those laptops that were called "netbooks" in their original marketing material.
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