While a majority (49%) of students still prefer to buy full-sized laptop PCs for their school computing needs, those numbers are rapidly changing. 34% of student shoppers this year intend to buy a netbook, according to a recent Retrevo study (via AppleInsider). Netbooks are more easily portable, have way better battery life, and boot up much faster than traditional laptops. This makes them a better deal for college students who just need a machine they can use for Internet, email, and note-taking.
Retrevo found that the most important concerns for back-to-school computer purchases were battery life, screen size, weight, ability to watch movies, style, and gaming. While netbooks tend to fall down in terms of gaming and screen size, they're quite capable of everything else. Traditional laptops still have an edge that the netbook is unlikely to dull much more, but there is a product on the horizon that could drastically alter the game.
Some analysts think that the Apple iTablet will cut into the netbook market, but due to their higher price point (likely $700+) I think the real enemy of the tablet is going to be the CULV and the laptop. They'll be competing for the same price point, while netbooks stay nestled safely in the $300-$500 range.
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A stylish, full-featured Apple tablet would be inordinately popular with students. The iTablet is rumored to provide an excellent movie-viewing experience, and its 10” screen ought to be large enough to satisfy student shoppers. It's also worth noting that any Apple tablet is going to attract a huge amount of buzz. Like the iPod and iPhone before it, owning one will be as much of a fashion symbol as anything else. That's a little silly, but it's also something that no laptop on the market can compete with.