Will the tablet and netbook markets eventually converge?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: May 27, 2011

As it stands, tablets are far from being a proven technology. Although the market for them is quickly growing and likely to burst at the seams in the not too distant future, it is still in its infancy. And regardless of the large amount of people who find tablets a useless novelty, a handful of manufacturers have jumped on the tech and are doing their best to prove its worth. As more and more tablets make it to shelves, I have a growing confidence that the market will only flourish and adapt, filling the voids where even today's most advanced tablets fall short.

The question of buying a tablet over a netbook is one that plagues the mind of anyone looking into a viable mobile computing machine. I, among countless others, have pitted the blown-up smartphones against the mini laptops twice now, and in a matter of five months, tablets have come a very long way. In fact, I even recommend buying a tablet with a keyboard solution over a netbook with a full-fledged operating system unless, of course, you do a lot of web-based work or need a full-fledged operating system. Not only do I think tablets are here to stay for some time to come, but I believe the tablet and netbook markets will eventually converge.

Now, before you go off on a tangent in the comments calling me some crackpot theorist, hear me out. Despite the fact that netbooks and tablets are in competition with one another, the devices themselves strongly compliment each other.

Both technologies have their great pitfalls, but the opposing tech typically offers a solution. For example, typing on a tablet isn't the most effective or pleasant way to type. A netbook generally comes with an exceptional, albeit tiny, keyboard. Yes, there are hardware keyboard solutions for tablets, but they bridge the gap between the two, sort of turning a tablet into a netbook. On the other hand, browsing the web or viewing media (pictures, movies, etc.) isn't the most pleasing on the low-res, cheap display of a netbook. The defining feature of a tablet is the large, touchscreen display, most of which come at a high resolution that can easily put most (not all) netbooks to shame.

Netbooks are usually much better for work and knocking out the tasks at hand while tablets are more for fun and play. With a full-fledged operating system, you have the option of installing software like Microsoft Office or Open Office. Tablets do have apps that operating similarly to the fully functional desktop software, but they are greatly lacking features. Flash game sites can easily be accessed on a netbook, and even disc-based games can be played if you care to fool with an external disc drive. But these options don't even remotely compare to the vast application support for mobile operating systems.

So what is the solution? Well, it definitely isn't buying both a netbook and tablet and carrying the both around. Thankfully, ASUS recognized this and did an awesome job at finding the perfect blend between the two. The Eee Pad Transformer is the perfect balance between netbook and tablet. The keyboard dock gives the tablet netbook-like capabilities without sacrificing the tablet experience.

That said, that is only the beginning. You may recall that HP has already said they will be releasing a version of webOS on all computers in 2012. Naturally, this means that netbooks will also receive webOS. It isn't likely that netbooks will also be releasing with touchscreens or anything, but having a mobile OS available on a netbook would certainly mean outstanding battery life, the pleasure of having an instant-on function, and access to an endless supply of mobile apps.

Since HP won't allow other manufacturers to install webOS on their PCs, I'm assuming the remaining PC manufacturers would like to add a little extra functionality to their netbooks. I see them giving the option to install either Android or even a tablet-optimized version of Windows Phone (not yet applicable).

However, adding the option to dual-boot between a mobile operating system and Windows is hardly a convergence of tablets and netbooks. Manufacturers like Toshiba and Acer have an undeniable presence in the computer realm and both have shown serious interest in the tablet market. As innovation goes and technologies advance, this would only be a natural progression. Netbooks don't offer nearly as smooth of an experience as tablets; tablets don't offer quite the functionality of a machine with a full-fledged OS. I assume these manufacturers will follow the lead of ASUS and at least offer attachments like the ASUS keyboard dock that will balance the line between the two technologies in the future.

Who knows, maybe it's just hopeful wishing on my part as I'm a rather large tablet fan, but hate the gaping limitations. One thing is for certain though, the netbook market is becoming rather stale and tablets are growing in popularity and abundance. Let's just hope that the manufacturers that have their hands in both cookie jars have at least realized the potential to grow both markets together and not necessarily against each other.

Lest we forget that the original tablets were laptops with detachable displays. I wouldn't be surprised if we come full circle and manufacturers try that path again as the technology has finally caught up to the concept.

Are you among the many who feel a keyboard defeats the purpose of a tablet? Or is this the natural evolution that both markets will eventually experience? Would you prefer a netbook with a mobile OS, a regular netbook, a completely normal tablet, or a device similar to the Transformer with its dock?