200M Ultramobile Devices in 5 Years? Really?

Asus Eee PC

Asus Eee PC

ABI Research put out a report this morning saying by 2013 there will be 200 million ultramobile devices, an emerging class of gadgets that includes netbooks, ultramobile PCs and mobile Internet devices. The report says today there are about 10 million such devices, about 90 percent of which are netbooks. But to say that in five years the tiny web-enabled PCs will reach the same size as today’s worldwide laptop market seems like wishful thinking for the chipmakers hoping to get in on this space.

I can see how it’s easy to come up with a large number shipped in five years. Marketers, chipmakers, device makers and even bloggers are expanding the category by trying to make the myriad devices do too many things. Intel thinks the ultramobile device will be a computer with VoIP. Dell thinks it will be a computer with a cellular data plan subsidized by carriers. Qualcomm thinks it will be a slightly larger phone. You guys doubt the whole category.

That same broad classification — a device that’s bigger than a cell phone and smaller than a laptop — makes it harder to build such computers and market them. After all, who’s the target audience? Some think it’s the developing world, while others imagine college students here toting around “ultramobile devices.” Even ABI Principal Analyst Philip Solis can’t make up his mind as to how this will play out.

“As this market enters its rapid growth phase and starts to evolve, we will see considerable experimentation with different distribution channels: some will sell direct from the manufacturer, some via retail outlets, and some through mobile operators who will subsidize them to encourage new data plan subscriptions.”

Consumers, who buy products to fulfill a defined need, want clarity when they’re paying a few hundred dollars for something. And if markets and manufacturers can’t get their story straight, average consumers won’t buy it — much less 200 million of them.