Last summer when Qualcomm and Freescale announced they were working on a new type of mobile Internet device called a smartbook, it was assumed they meant a variation on a netbook. But new research commissioned by Freescale points to a markedly different price, shape and consumer for these lightweight, always-connected gadgets.
The Austin-based chip maker says smartbooks will be more affordable than netbooks, with prices as low as $199. Unlike netbooks, which resemble laptop computers with their hinged or "clamshell" shape, smartbooks will sport a flat, tablet shape, says Glen Burchers, Freescale's director of global consumer segment marketing. The company believes smartbook users will be young, between 12 and 25 years of age.
Freescale's research focused on the future because most smartbooks have yet to hit the market. The company has collaborated on one smartbook to date: the NetWalker from Japanese manufacturer Sharp. Qualcomm ( QCOM - news - people ) has also unveiled one smartbook, made by Lenovo ( LNVGY.PK - news - people ). (See: "Qualcomm Unveils Lenovo Smartbook,") Both companies expect at least a dozen smartbooks incorporating their chips to debut in early 2010.
To refine its smartbook products, Freescale recently asked Savannah College of Art & Design graduate students to identify consumer groups that would be interested in the devices. The team found that young people want "intuitive, trendy and powerful devices that become extensions of themselves" and help them "keep up with their hectic lives at a low price point." Smartbooks filled that need, the students concluded, but would sell even better if they targeted certain user groups.
The user groups--five for the Western market and four for the Asian market--include super-social "Facebook Butterflies," über-hip "scene kids," teens that love Japanese pop culture, bookworms and several types of gamers. After deciding which colors and details would appeal to each group, the students created nine concept designs. Their smartbook for "gamer guru" consumers is slim and curved with rubber accents and LED lighting to convey a feeling of speed and power. Their "junior gamer" smartbook sports rounded corners and bright primary colors designed to entertain younger users.