The Tipping Point: Why Netbooks Are The Future Of How We Use Technology

As I mentioned in a previous post, I just recently purchased a Gateway netbook. It’s a Gateway LT 31, which is pricier than your average netbook, but has a 2 GB’s or RAM, and a slightly larger screen. It runs Microsoft Vista (that’s why it has the extra RAM), but that’s more of a luxury than anything else.

For what I use it for, I love it. I have a MacBook Pro, but that I use primarily for work, and it’s really too heavy and big to use on an airplane, which I find myself on about once a month going somewhere. Netbooks are the perfect size for typing up blog posts, surfing the web, and doing light photo editing when I’m on the move. They’re also great devices in that if I lose it, I’m not losing my life’s work because of the price.

We’re reaching a definate tipping point with devices that many manufacturers and software developers are ignoring: that bigger, faster, better is being replaced by devices that match our needs. Not everyone wants to drive an SUV. If you need one, it’s out there, but the needs of everyday computer usage (browsing the web, reading email, occasional word processing), do not match what most of today’s computing SUV’s can do.

With a projected 50 million units sold over last year and this year, these smaller devices are here to stay.

What does all this mean to User Experience designers in the future?

The days of pushing for websites that are 1600 pixels wide are over. We’re back to desigining for devices that are large and small. Most users don’t know this, but this blog serves a different user experience for mobile devices, and we might have to consider the same for the devices that are going to resemble nothing of the current netbooks today. Most user experience professionals will be designing for screens that are 1024 pixels wide for years to come, and maybe coming up with a second or third primary resolution for more mobile devices like the worst kept secret on the planet, the upcoming Apple Tablet, which will provide a new range of gestural interfaces we haven’t even thought of.

It’s less about features, and more about satisfying the exact user needs. Anyone that has used Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word admits that they only use 10 to 20 percent of the features contained in the program. Know what a smart object is? Can you insert a cross reference? Can you index a document? Very few of us use these features, and more often than not, many of these software packages have become bloated over the years from feature creep, with publishers giving us features that satisfy many audiences, but not all audiences. Consquently, smaller, faster, better software products that may even be network based will satisfy our needs with these devices. The limited screen footprint of Google Chrome provides such a wonderful experience using my Gateway, I can’t imagine using another browser.

The days of having to by expensive software are over. Microsoft’s approach of pricing doesn’t work at all for Netbooks, and that goes the same for Adobe and many of the other software developers out there. I’m not going to pay $200 for a software package I barely use on the device, like Microsoft Office. These are secondary devices, so I’ll be using Thunderbird, Picasa, Open Office and other packages that do exactly what I want them to do: simple email management, quick image editing, and some word processing. I don’t expect to use Photoshop on this system anytime soon, and that’s okay.

Network computing is here to stay. The cloud will have something to do with it, but sales figures have proven that the way I use my Netbook is the way many users are using the devices: it’s a secondary device that we use in front of the television, on an airplane, or places where bringing the larger laptop is impactical. Notebooks have already surpassed standard tower computers because notebooks have way more power than most of us need, and netbooks may do that as a device someday. If we have multiple devices, this requires files stored in one place, not all over the place. That means designing applications that support this.