skeleton laptop

The netbook might be making a comeback.

Manufacturers have flocked to the IFA conference to showcase their latest products, and more than a few of them are announcing cheap laptops, even though that market was declared dead after demand for netbooks all but disappeared in the beginning of 2013. Is that about to change?

Asus, Toshiba, and other manufacturers seem to think so. Asus has announced the EeeBook, an 11.6-inch laptop that will cost just $199 when it debuts. Toshiba revealed the second version of its Chromebook, which has a 1080p display and will cost $329 when it’s released in October. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that we’d all just traveled back in time to the netbook’s peak.

It might seem foolish to announce low-cost laptops when the category has been limping along for the better part of two years, but these companies might be on to something. The netbook was presumed dead because consumers were sick of purchasing cheap devices that didn’t get the job done, and because the tablet seemed poised to devour the entire laptop market whole.

That’s starting to change. According to the IDC research firm, consumers are less interested in tablets than they’ve been in the past, and laptop shipments haven’t fallen as much as expected. Tablets quickly rose to the top of consumers’ holiday wish lists and pundits’ favorite devices, but now that the novelty has worn off, it looks like the devices aren’t as popular as many hoped.

Combine that with the fact that these devices aren’t the clunky, barely-usable devices that came to prominence at the height of the netbook craze and you can see why a manufacturer might try to give the failed market another shot at life. If the products are decent, the prices are low, and the interest is there, why wouldn’t it make sense to produce a good-enough, low-cost computer?

At least they have the good sense not to call the damned things “netbooks” this time around.

[Image courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]