Is There More Behind Dell’s Discontinuation of 12-inch Netbooks?

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So Dell is retiring the Mini 12 netbook. According to them it’s because 10-inch netbooks are the “sweet spot” for consumers. I find this odd because Dell has built its entire existence on providing so many choices it’s sometimes difficult to get out of the configuration maze once you get in.

Dell has 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 inch laptops. They have laptops geared for businesses, and for consumers. They have the Alienware models. Heck, they’ve even got an aphrodisiac laptop! In short, they’ve got choices out the wazoo. Surely somewhere in that mess of configuration options are other “sweet spots”, yet with netbooks they’re stopping at 10 inches.

TechCrunch isn’t convinced by Dell’s reasoning, and makes a case that Intel has a lot to do with it:

Intel doesn’t like 12-inch netbooks because they are deep into dual core territory, where Intel has much healthier profit margins… Intel has put pressure on OEMs to build netbooks that have 10 inch or smaller screens.

I don’t doubt this — and I’m not the only one — but I believe Microsoft may have something to do with it as well. Windows 7 is almost here, and the “netbook” version (Starter Edition), is not available for netbooks with screens over 10 inches. In an article I wrote for GigaOM Pro (subscription required), I said that “[s]ome have called the strategy price-fixing. While that may be debated, at the very least it’s “hardware fixing.””

Without Starter, a 12 inch netbook requires at least Home Premium, and the associated price hike that takes it out of typical netbook territory. This is doubly true if Intel charges by screen size as TechCrunch states. These two corporations have made it all but impossible to build a 12-inch netbook for appreciably less than, say, a 13 inch cheap laptop.

If a 13-inch laptop is only a little more then why wouldn’t you prefer it? Because it’s not a netbook. It’s bigger, bulkier, much heavier, runs hotter and has much less battery life. If you just wanted a netbook a bit bigger than 10-inches, with a keyboard less cramped, a 12-inch could be perfect. Perhaps too perfect in Intel’s and Microsoft’s eyes.

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