Netbook sales could find a better toehold in businesses as manufacturers improve their models, according to market researcher IDC.
In the whole of 2008, almost seven million netbooks shipped in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), IDC said, as the arrival of the first affordable models generated strong interest from buyers. The release of several new netbooks from October onwards helped fuel a boom in end-of-year netbook sales in the region.
"We don't expect those sales to continue to grow at the rate they did prior to Christmas. They have settled down to 20 or 30 per cent [of all portable sales in EMEA] as customers return to more traditional models but we believe they will remain robust," Eszter Morvay, research manager in IDC's EMEA group, told silicon.com sister site ZDNet UK on Wednesday.
While IDC expects consumer sales to be the mainstay of the netbook market, it said that improvements such as larger screens, better specifications and integrated 3G will make sub-notebooks more of an option for businesses.
"The issue will be the effect that the credit crunch is having," she said, noting that as companies look to save money where they can, cheaper sub-notebooks will become appealing. She pointed to the education sector as one that "will be another growth opportunity in the long term" for netbook makers.
Morvay pointed to the Sony P series as sub-notebooks that are suitable for business. "I know that Sony does not want to think of it as a netbook, but on our definition, where price is an important factor, it is a netbook."
Enterprises such as Salesforce.com were looking at netbooks as a tool for deployment among sales teams, Morvay added. "But there are limitations such as performance, and it is a question of balance," she said. Netbooks have a place in corporate use but mainstream laptops offer "the features and functionality that business needs and netbooks will continue to struggle with that", she said.
One spur for the market is that computer makers are planning to release a range of sub-notebooks aimed at entry-level, mainstream and high-end buyers, IDC said.
In 2008, Acer took top spot in netbooks with 30.3 per cent market share, for a total of 1.09 million units shipped. Second-place Asus had 28 per cent market share, with 1.01 million units sold. Those two were well ahead of the next manufacturer, HP, which came third with seven per cent market share and 253,000 sales. Samsung at 6.4 per cent share and Dell at 4.3 per cent share made up the top five.
Acer and Asus might have issues maintaining their market share as other vendors put on the pressure, Morvay said. HP is taking the netbook market "very seriously, with new models and the like, so we know they will do well", she predicted.