Hon Hai, the largest technology manufacturer in the world, which is better known by its trading name Foxconn, revealed to Reuters yesterday that it is developing a low cost smartbook for the huge Chinese market.
The report says Hon Hai will be using ARM chips, but ARM doesn't actually make chips itself. Instead it licenses its designs to other chip makers, who incorporate it into their own chips. So it will be interesting to see which of the many members of the ARM ecosystem Hon Hai is getting its chips from.
Smartbook is the generic name for mini-notebooks that run on very low power chipsets containing designs from UK company ARM, as opposed to Intel Atom, which is ubiquitous in netbooks. The term is being championed by 3G chip giant Qualcomm as the vehicle for its Snapdragon chipset, but other members of the ARM ecosystem like NVIDIA and Freescale seem happy to go along with it.
"We have a few smartbook projects and I think there is demand for these sub-$200 devices," said Young Liu, a special assistant to the Hon Hai CEO, at (cheekily) an Intel event. "We won't be able to make a PC that costs less than $200 if it's running on Intel chips or Windows."
This is probably the kind of market smartbooks will target, at least initially. End-users still expect the full Microsoft experience from any PC-type device (although not, it should be remembered, from smartphones) and they will need a strong reason to try another operating system.
ARM based devices don't use the x86 instruction set and thus can't run full Windows. While ARM is hoping Microsoft will eventually produce an ARM compatible version, for the time being smartbooks will be restricted to variants of the Linux OS. Only by pricing smartbooks significantly below your average netbook can they hope to entice end-users to leave their Windows comfort zone.
UPDATE - 17:00, 9th September 2009:
Several sites are reporting that the codename for these Foxconn smartbooks is ‘Qbook'. Hmmm, we wonder what the ‘Q' stands for...