Netbook use differs between U.S. and Canada

While U.S. consumers are latching onto netbooks and using them for productivity applications in the U.S., Canadian adoption has lagged behind thanks to both conservative spending habits and high bandwidth costs, according to an industry observer.

Warren Shiau, lead analyst of IT research at Toronto-based The Strategic Counsel, said that Canadian netbook buyers are basically using the devices as a mobile entertainment machine and are deemed a luxury consumer purchase, even at the low price point.

“Right now, we’re using netbooks as a secondary mobile machine, in addition to the primary home machine, which is either the desktop or the laptop,” said Warren Shiau, lead analyst of IT research at Toronto-based The Strategic Counsel. “And that’s different from the States, where American consumers are using the netbook as a fully functional mobile machine, instead of a laptop.”

The findings were gleaned during the second quarter of 2009 in a survey of 1,500 Canadians and 1,500 Americans aged 18 to 70.

In both Canada and the U.S., Shiau said, the laptop is used as a form factor with mobile capability, rather than as a truly mobile device. “Its desk-to-sofa mobility,” he explained, adding that laptops are just as tied to home use as desktops are.

But in the U.S., Shiau said, the netbook hasn’t taken this route and already started to take off as a truly mobile productivity machine.

According to a recent survey by Retrevo Inc., the U.S. trend towards netbooks is particularly evident when looking at the purchasing pattern among college students. In a survey of 300 people from its pool of 4 million monthly visitors, the research firm found that one out of every three students plan to purchase a netbook, which prompted Retrevo CEO Vipin Jain to declare that 2009 “marks the dawn of the netbook.”

Retrevo also discovered a trend away from Apple Inc.’s MacBook line toward cheaper laptops and lightweight netbooks, which it said was a direct result of tough economic times, with only 18 per cent of respondents citing a laptop budget of more than US $1,000.

Shiau said that Canadians are historically conservative spenders and have always lagged behind American consumers in new electronics and even automobiles.

In the case of the netbook, for Canadians to catch up and view the technology as a viable, primary computing option, the cost of bandwidth in Canada must decrease. This is a problem that has also affected smart phone usage in Canada, he added.

“It’s one thing to have the machine, but it’s got to be connected and you’ve got to have bandwidth in order for the potential use of a netbook or smart phone to be fully realized,” said Shiau.

This echoed the sentiment shared by IDC Canada Ltd. in its wireless adoption report earlier this month. The research firm said that while devices such as smart phones and netbooks represent a key driver for the future of mobile handsets in Canada, the country has a lot of room to grow in the wireless space.

Lawrence Surtees, IDC Canada’s vice-president in charge of communications research, said that even though Canada has 22 million wireless subscribers (Internet and phone), wireless services only have a 67 per cent penetration rate.

“Penetration doesn’t max out at 100 per cent,” said Surtees, pointing to countries such as Hong Kong and Italy, which both have over 150 per cent penetration for wireless services due to consumers subscribing to more than one wireless service.

Whether or not these issues are addressed, however, there’s probably no stopping the continued rise of netbooks in Canada among both consumers and enterprises, said Shiau.

“There’s a fairly large possibility that a lot of corporate purchases could go the netbook way,” he said, adding that as more consumers get behind the form factor, IT enterprise will have to allow them inside the corporate firewall.

– With files from IDG News Service

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