Apple's Ipad has apparently taken a chunk out out of the netbook market with its introduction. I could nitpick the numbers a bit and say the jury is out still on that, but for the purposes of this post I'll play along with the analysis and accept that yes the Ipad did take a bite out of netbooks sales.
And if you follow the logic the implication is that "slates" as a form factor will continue this trend. I'm not sure I believe that, I'm not convince that another OEM can ride Apple's coat tail with a completely different "slate" form factor offering. I certainly think the netbook formfactor as a market doesn't have a good identity and people are making the best of fitting them into their lives because they are just so darn inexpensive. The ipad...not so cheap..but its eating into netbook marketshare. There's definitely something very important going on there..but it may not be easy for another OEM to duplicate. They are going to give it a good college try however.
HP now has its own in house mobile platform in WebOS with the purchase of Palm and seems to be saying that its going to be the basis of its own slate offerings:
And all indications seem to point to Dell's Streak running Android.
All of these operating environments are first and foremost mobile device environments. Not traditional "desktop" environments. And while webOS and Android are based on linux, neither of them or traditional linux "distributions." I think that is very interesting as a contrast to the evolution of common netbook environment. Netbooks are essentially cutdown laptops and the traditional linux distribution model mapped over without much fuss. Even the linux arm netbooks which are due to sweep across the globe like a pandemic.... any day now.....they take a little more work because of the change of architecture but that the end of the day its the same user environment.
Are traditional linux distributions ready for the slate form factor? Are traditional linux distributions even going to be possible on these devices? Unlike netbooks, I think slates as a market segment are more inclined to fall into a pattern of OEM enforced walled application gardens...with 10 foot tall walls in the form of locked down OEM pre-installs. Sure all the android devices may have access to similar apps. And all the webOS devices may have access to the same apps. But cross environment applications maybe far rarer than what we are use to in traditional linux software distribution ecosystem. Where Fedora, Debian, and Gentoo share much of the application-scape across their boundaries.. those boundaries are essentially decorative garden edging.. not wall that have to be scaled by application developers..which for the most part rely on QT/KDE or qtk/gnome frameworks to build applications that should work on any of those distributions without significant distribution specific hacks. I get the feeling that's not really the same for webOS and Android.
And with all the work going on right now to support netbook oriented interfaces in the more traditional linux software ecosystem..having a market research firm stand up and say slates are going to kill netbooks doesn't feel so good.