In my most recent report  ‘What Makes A Netbook?’ , a number of impending problems for the category (whatever it ends up being called) were surfaced — two key
issues were (a) how to differentiate netbooks and similarly priced
notebooks and (b) whether those European telcos giving the things away were
really thinking this through.

This week at MWC in Barcelona HP (amongst others) made a couple of strategic announcements
which go some way to addressing both of these issues:

– The first fruits of the HP & Orange strategic relationship: Orange selling the Compaq Mini 700 in retail. Probably the first of many such hardware deals, shows Orange looking beyond just giving away the cheapest, any-brand netbook to drive mobile broadband uptake.

– T-mobile ALSO offering the Compaq Mini 700…but also in an
HSDPA/UMTS embedded version — making this netbook a different proposition to the ‘get the mobile broadband dongle + netbook’ crowd.

These announcements show that telcos have recognized the
shortcomings of the ‘buy mobile broadband get a cute netbook free’ model – stock control,
support issues, and little upside revenue wise – and want to build out more
sustainable offerings.

 HP is in a good position to do this – while later to the
netbook market than ASUS, Acer, MSI and several others, the worlds largest
notebook provider has quickly caught up in terms of devices (the 2133, the
2140, the Vivienne Tam designer edition etc) and is bringing their expertise in
logistics, support, and UI design to bare here to help telcos get over that bump of unfamiliar hardware models.

The T-mobile announcement does raise one interesting additional question though: after a slow start and some reticence
on Microsoft’s part, Windows XP has become the dominant OS for netbooks –
largely down to the need to run PC apps and mimic a familiar UI. With telco
provided netbooks featuring embedded connectivity, do we see a device which is
closer to the smartphone world rather than the PC world – and if so will HP
reconsider its decision to focus on Windows netbooks in Europe, and put more emphasis on the MI Linux editions instead?

Does this mean even MORE disruption in the PC marketplace? Can netbooks become the ‘killer’ delivery device for mobile telcos rich media ambitions? Thoughts appreciated