In one of the most bullish independent forecasts yet, a research firm is predicting 39 million netbooks will be sold worldwide in 2009 as the prices of many netbooks plummet to $200 (£140) or less.
"We are talking about devices with full PC functionality that [because of low prices] have become disposable computers," said Kevin Burden, an analyst with New York-based ABI Research, in an interview Tuesday.
ABI's forecast for 2009 is almost double that of IDC's prediction of 21 million netbooks shipped worldwide. It is also nearly four times higher than Gartner's forecast of nearly 8 million netbook shipments in 2009. The figure for 2009 is also more than double the 16 million netbooks that ABI said had shipped in 2008.
ABI also predicts that 139 million netbooks will be sold in 2013. Burden called his forecasts "not necessarily bullish, and actually fairly conservative."
"The timing is right," he said, citing the availability of low-cost, low-power netbook processors in both x86 as well ARM-based flavors, which use even less power than the former.
Burden expects ARM processors from manufacturers such as FreeScale, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to lead to a proliferation of inexpensive Linux netbooks with features targeted at specific consumer segments.
"You'll see $200 netbooks that go after the outdoor hiking crowd, or those that go after gamers," he said.
Many of the netbooks will be convertibles, which have rotating tablet screens that allow users to write on one side with a stylus or type on a keyboard on the other, Burden said.
Netbooks have almost totally pushed aside two prior industry attempts to promote smaller PCs, ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) and mobile Internet devices (MIDs), according to ABI.
About 920,000 UMPCs, such as the OQO, will be sold worldwide this year, ABI said. Regarded as too expensive for most consumers, UMPCs have been relegated to vertical business niches such as health care, Burden said.
"They've become something you get for your job, not necessarily because you wanted it for yourself," he said.
Nearly 6 million mobile Internet devices (MIDs) will be shipped this year, Burden said. MIDs are generally devices that fall in size between a smart phone and a UMPC. Though they have been around since the late 1990s with devices such as the Nokia Communicator, their prices, higher than most netbooks, and their size, too small for touch-typing keyboards, have been deterrents for success, Burden said.