FastCompany published a good analysis of the netbook phenomena where they argue that the netbook as a growth item is over and has now just become another class of PC. This makes sense and we have seen it with other devices in the past, such as the Palm PDA.
I think however that the netbook phenomena needs a deeper exploration as it has changed the way we look at technology. The concept of the netbook wasn’t new. Psion had a device in the market until 2003 called a netBook which was similar in specification and abilities to the modern netbook. Nokia has developed the n8XX series of Linux-based web tablets with a similar functionality to the phlanax of netbooks. Asian markets which have a long history of sub-notebooks, came out with devices based on the low-powered Transmeta Crusoe processors which echoed the uptake of Intel’s Atom processor.
The netbook phenomena allowed consumers a cost-effective way to sample a new form factor which Western audiences hadn’t considered before. Laptops had gone bigger and more powerful in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of cars manufactured by Detroit in the middle of the 20th century and the netBook is the VW Beetle. VW in itself didn’t crash the US car market, but it opened the door for later Japanese saloons that shared a similar scale and thriftiness. The netbook is dead, long live the netbook.