The secret to netbook success: Battery life!

Netbooks have been the hot item now for quite a while but the latest numbers out are showing a slowing in growth for netbook sales.  While taking a quarter of the mobile computing market is impressive, if manufactures and retailers want to continue to ship these low margin products, they must focus on one thing, battery life.

For years, the biggest problem with that has faced the road warrior is battery life or lack of it on most laptops.  On the average laptop, you are usually lucky if you see 2 1/2 hours of real world use on the battery.  If you are using a gaming laptop like I do on occasion, you jump for joy if you hit an hour of average use when on your battery.  Luckily, netbooks have hit the big time and they tend to have great battery life (in comparison).  With most netbooks having nearly identical specs (screen size, processor, ram, ect.), the best way to market a product like this is with battery life.  One of the things that often sets one netbook apart from another netbook (aside from the brand) is the size of the battery.  Most netbooks have either 3 or 6 cell batteries.  For many netbooks, a 3-cell battery will maybe get you 3 hours on a good day whereas I have seen the 6-cell in my Acer Aspire One go in the neighborhood of 7 hours.  I have even seen advertisements for netbook battery life above 10 hours, but I never trust advertised battery life, which is a real problem for manufactures.

When most manufactures advertise battery life, they generally state the absolute most you will see and they do everything they can to achieve a higher number.  Most manufactures use every trick they can come up with from turning the screen brightness as low as it will go to turning off the wifi all in the name of a higher battery life claim.  It has become such a problem that most people don’t even pay attention to advertised battery life and instead look for reviews from others that can give them an idea of what they will see in the real world.  This is a problem that manufactures must shake off.  There are two ways that they can do this, just advertise real world numbers (the honest way), or at least put the real world expectation of battery life next to the best possible battery life so that consumers have a better idea of what they are getting.  Once you have some sort of honest way of reporting the battery life, then it is time to advertise it.

With most laptop owners yearning for more battery life, that is what manufactures should be targeting.  I honestly don’t expect to see netbooks get much cheaper in the near future so instead of trying to argue price, argue battery life.  Full size laptops can be found pretty cheap these days so you need to give people a better reason than $100 difference to go with a netbook instead of a full size laptop and the battery life is where you can sell the product.  While it will certainly have an effect on the sale of full size laptops which are a larger margin product, that is a good thing for a couple of reasons.  One, it will help laptop manufactures to strive for better battery life which has desperately been needed for many years and two, you can still promote a full size laptop as doing much more than a netbook can do with much less hassle.  While netbooks are easier to carry around, it is much more of a hassle to get the software you want installed on them and they aren’t really made for doing any heavy computing like trying to edit some images, video or even crank out some code with a nice IDE like Visual Studio or Eclipse.  Also, laptops hold much larger amounts of memory which is also a big selling point.  If you push these points, it won’t hurt sales as much as you think it might.

In the end, I believe both products can thrive in their own markets with the right marketing but you must market the features that matter most, especially when you have little to differentiate yourself from your competition.