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Analyst: Netbooks to stick with 10-inch screens

Despite a new crop of netbooks sporting 12-inch displays, vendors will mostly build models with 10-inch screens in coming years because of cost and size, says one market researcher.

Vinita Jakhanwal, an analyst with iSuppli Inc, said also that the screen resolutions for 10-inch netbooks, usually 800×480 (VGA) and 1024×600 (SVGA), were unlikely to improve because of the increased manufacturing cost involved.

But she expects netbook makers to follow notebook PC trends and replace conventional CCFL-based LCDs with brighter and more environmentally-friendly LED-backlit screens in coming years.

“It's just a couple of dollars more for backlit LEDs,” Jakhanwal told Computerworld on Tuesday. LED screens do not use mercury in the manufacturing and are said to use less power.

iSuppli projects 24.4 million netbooks will be produced this year, and for that number to grow to 47.7 million in 2012.

Screens 10-inches in size should comprise about 55% of the market this year, and 8-inch to 9-inch screens are expected to comprise slightly less than 40%, according to iSuppli.

When netbooks were first introduced by OLPC and Asus Inc. in late 2007, they came with 7-inch screens. This was to keep netbook manufacturing costs down, prevent the internal chips from being overtaxed, and to make them more portable.

Those smaller 7-inch screens, which made up about one-quarter of shipments last year, will shrink to less than 5% of the market this year, says iSuppli.

Netbook makers quickly responded to consumer desires for a larger form factor by shifting up to 9-inch and 10-inch screens, over the objections of Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., which were aiming to prevent lower-priced netbooks from cannibalizing sales of mainstream laptops.

Intel, Via Technologies Inc. and Nvidia Corp. have since released more powerful processors or graphics chips that can support larger screens.

The trend of upsizing netbooks has shifted into overdrive in recent months, as Dell Inc., Samsung, and Lenovo have all announced or released netbooks with 12-inch screens.

Jakhanwal, who regularly talks to LCD makers as part of her research, says she is unconvinced that 12-inch screens will take over on netbooks.

For one, 12-inch screens detract from a netbook's portability, which is “one of its biggest selling points,” she said.

Another limiting factor is that Korea's LG Display is the only vendor actively marketing 11.6 or 12-inch displays for netbooks today, she said. As a result, 12-inch displays remain much pricier than 10-inch ones, which as of January were selling to PC makers at about $40 per screen, according to iSuppli figures.

Wireless carriers interested in bundling 3G-enabled netbooks with service plans were likely to prefer smaller-screened netbooks. Reports say Asus will continue to build 7-inch netbooks for the phone companies.

While netbook screens may not be growing, some vendors are increasing the number of pixels per inch of screen size.

HP's Mini 2140 comes with the option of a super-sharp 1366×768, 10-inch display.

But, again, more pixels means higher costs, Jakhanwal said, as well as more drain on the battery. For those reasons, she expects most 10-inch screens to remain at 1024×600.

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