What's the difference between a mobile phone and a netbook?

And what does it mean that Android turns out to be a great netbook OS with specific commands for supporting netbook-like devices?

If 2008 has proved anything, it's there's definitely room for a cheap, super-portable device that enables you to get useful things done online.

If this is what netbooks are 'for', then are they as good as they could be? The answer is no, and part of the problem is you can only use them in convenient locations, where there is Wi-Fi coverage or a network connection.

The other problem concerns the OS, with customer resistance to the flavours of Linux that have powered many of them up to now, and question marks about Microsoft's enthusiasm for netbooks in general.

It appears Google have had their eyes on the sector for a while, given it took a couple of hackers only four hours to get Android running on an Asus Eee PC 1000H. It turns out that there are two product policies in Android's code, policies that direct the OS towards specific uses. One is for phones, the other for mobile internet devices, like netbooks.

But the OS is only part of it: netbook portability means they ought to be usableanywhere, and for that, like the Advent 4213 or Dell Inspiron Mini 9, they need built in 3G.

One issue with 3G is the contract: it immediately makes netbooks' low prices, a key selling point, look less attractive once you add in the cost. But perhaps that's because netbooks are being sold like PCs when really they need to be sold like phones: free hardware with monthly contract, as Michael Dell suggests.

Then there's been the rumours swirling around Apple's supposed interest in the sector. Apple has the OS, the know-how in meshing hardware and online services, and a gap in its product line it sort of tried to fill with the MacBook Air. And Apple knows how to get people to choose 3G contracts based on hardware (rather than vice versa), and pay for the handset, too, with the iPhone.

Finally, there's the phone companies, who have tried this type of thing before but without making it a compelling productivity tool. They may see netbooks as an opportunity, and a chance to dish out to the likes of Apple, what Apple has been dishing out to them.

So is one future of the netbook an Android or OS X-powered 3G device sold like a phone, on monthly subscription, available in a number of shapes and form factors, from laptops to tablets?

However it turns out, 2009 will be the year when netbooks get even more interesting.

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Now read Notebooks vs netbooks: what should you buy?

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