A new research study estimates that 163 million "smartbooks" will ship worldwide in 2015 - a significant rate of growth given that the very first models only appeared in 2008.
According to ABI Research senior analyst Jeff Orr: "As ABI Research defines it, a smartbook is a low-powered device running a mobile operating system that is always connected, either via Wi-Fi or (more often) using cellular or mobile broadband.
"Smartbooks can take many different shapes. They are a subset of MIDs (mobile Internet devices) and netbooks, and address the same potential users, usage, pricing, and market needs. The difference is that they don't use x86 processors."
(German company Smartbook AG is selling Smartbook-branded laptops, and holds a trademark for the word Smartbook in a number of countries, although not in large markets such as the US, China, Japan or India. More information here.)
Qualcomm and Freescale have been the largest promoters of the smartbook concept. Other chipmakers such as TI and NVIDIA that are producing ARM-based processors are active in this market as well.
The first waves of devices are coming from established vendors such as Lenovo and Sharp (even Apple's iPad is technically a smartbook) and newcomers such as Always Innovating.Technical definitions don't mean much to most consumers, however.
"The idea of 'a smartbook' doesn't resonate with anybody thinking of buying such a device," says Orr.
"Vendors should avoid creating a separate market category with a new name, instead accepting that they are competing in an established category.
"Consumers hear about netbooks as alternatives to laptops and MIDs as alternatives to mobile phones, and can understand that. We believe the best opportunity in this ultra-mobile device market lies in new form-factors."Another very important consideration in consumer adoption of new products is price - both of devices and of the connectivity that is such an essential feature. ABI Research believes it will be important for vendors to bring entry-level smartbook prices to US$200 or less.