Guess what: ordinary folk don't know the difference between netbooks and notebooks, at least as far as the functionality of the two types of laptop go.
That's the conclusion of a survey carried out in the US by local market watcher NPD. Almost 600 people took part in the online survey, though how many of them own netbooks, NPD didn't reveal. However, some 60 per cent of the netbook-owning adults that it questioned said they believed that, pre-purchase, they thought the netbook they we about to buy would do as much as a notebook would.
We're not in the least bit surprised. The clear shift away from netbooks with small solid-state drives and Linux toward models with hard drives and Windows XP, shows a preference - either on the part of vendors or punters - for netbooks with more notebook-like specs. Ditto the appearance of more machines with screens bigger than 10in.
The question is - and it's one NPD doesn't appear to have posed - is whether that acquisition of ever more notebook-like features is what convinced consumers that netbooks are just small notebooks, or whether vendors have simply moved in response to consumer demand: buyers think netbooks are notebooks, have generally purchased machines with more notebook-like specifications, and vendors have adjusted their product mix accordingly.
Is that a problem for anyone other than Linux advocates? It's hard to say. NPD stated last night that "only" 58 per cent of folk who bought a netbook rather than a notebook were "very satisfied" with their little laptop.
The conclusion implied by NPD is that the remaining 42 per cent of netbooks buyers regretted their purchase. But it's not so clear cut. It's the way of market research that people responding to the survey will have been offered five or more choices, with 'very satisfied' at the top, descending to something like 'very disappointed' at the bottom.
So that 42 per cent of respondents run the gamut from 'why did I buy this effing thing' to 'yeah, it's OK', taking in the ever-present 'don't know' in between. That means far fewer folk regretted their netbook purchase than NPD's numbers would seem to show.
And, as the researcher admitted, 70 per cent of netbook owners said they planned on buying a netbook from the outset, which certainly doesn't imply a legion of consumers ill-advisedly switching from a new notebook to a new netbook at the last minute.
Around 65 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds who'd bought a netbook said they were disappointed with its performance, NPD said, but that suggests to us that these were folk out to buy a laptop on the cheap - that's essentially the university student age band, after all.
They're also users more likely to be after machines capable of churning through hefty multimedia files and so been disappointed by the Atom processor's number crunching ability and the lack of an optical drive. Caveat emptor. Certainly all the netbooks Register Hardware has tested have shown themselves to have entirely sufficient processing power for email, browsing, media playback, office apps and even low-grade Photoshop work.
Which is, of course, why vendors do need to watch out.
As NPD VP Stephen Baker warned: "There is a serious risk of cannibalisation in the notebook market that could cause a real threat to netbooks’ success. Retailers and manufacturers can’t put too much emphasis on PC-like capabilities and general features that could convince consumers that a netbook is a replacement for a notebook."
Yes, but the threat is not to "netbooks' success" but to suppliers. Like it or not, netbooks are effectively little notebooks, especially given the aforementioned shift to Windows XP and notebook-size 160GB HDDs.
Only AMD has felt able to admit these two types of machine are both sides of one coin.
We've seen Intel and retailers recently telling punters that netbooks are for media consumption, notebooks are for media creation. There's a sense in these communications of the door being closed after the horse has left the building.
And if that's because vendors have been pushing notebook-spec netbooks rather than reacting to consumer demand, they have only themselves to blame.
If it was consumers who demanded notebook-like netbooks, then that shows there's no confusion at all, and punters are (generally) buying the smaller machines because they like the size and the price, and find they have sufficient performance for their needs.
We're sure college kids and some other might have bought netbooks for inappropriate uses, but many folk, we'd say, are finding them to be exactly what they need. And NPD's numbers don't give us any reason to think otherwise. ®