Qualcomm's smartbook play - do we need another device category?

Yesterday Qualcomm called together a group of media to tell us that it isn't going to sit back and let the netbook craze pass it by. Instead, it has created a new category of devices called smartbooks that will conveniently use the company's highly touted Snapdragon chipset.

What exactly is the difference between a netbook and a smartbook? Qualcomm said a smartbook will combine the best of smartphones and netbooks by being always on, always connected, ultraportable, have a screen size between 10 and 12 inches, and a full keyboard. Sounds like a netbook, right?

According to Luis Pineda, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies, the difference between a netbook and a smartbook is the software. The smartbook will have "the user experience that we enjoy from a smartphone with a larger display device."

If the software and the user experience is the differentiator, I suspect consumers won't know the difference and perhaps it doesn't really matter. But do we really need another device category? And if a consumer decides to buy a smartbook, why would they need a smartphone too? Won't smartbooks just cannibalize the smartphone market? Pineda doesn't think so. Instead, he envisions the smartbook cannibalizing the netbook market. And he says that the smartbook will be a complimentary device to the notebook computer and to the smartphone. Further, the smartbook may or may not provide voice service. "Voice is an option. Snapdragon supports high-speed wireless data and voice so smartbooks have that option," Pineda said. 

Smartbooks likely will be sold at retail outlets and carrier stores. The pricepoint for the smartbook is unclear because Qualcomm says that it depends upon whether carriers subsidize this category of devices. Qualcomm says that 15 device makers are using its Snapdragon chipset in their devices (some of which are smartbooks). Although Qualcomm wouldn't name a specific manufacturer, the company did say that it expects to see the first smartbook on the market by year-end.

I'm anxious to see how many more iterations of smartphones, netbooks, smartbooks, etc., that chipmakers and device manufacturers come up with. Remember the mobile Internet device, or MID? That was supposed to be the hot new device of 2009 but it suddenly was overshadowed by the netbook. Do consumers really need smartbooks or is this just another example of a device without a market? --Sue, @FierceWireless