The Netbook Resolution Conundrum

hpmini I just had my first conversation about accommodating netbook screen resolutions for a RIA (Rich Internet Application) prototype.

Netbooks are those little laptops showing up in every electronics store on the planet (e.g., Lenovo IdeaPad, Asus Eee PC, Acer Aspire One, Dell Mini,  HP Mini).

According to The Channel Wire, the "netbook market grew by more than 160 percent quarter-on-quarter during Q3 of 2008" (5.6 million netbooks sold in Q3 2008). I expect low cost netbooks will be even more popular given the current economic slump, so it makes sense for web and RIA developers to be intentional in making their apps look good on those little screens. Netbooks commonly come with a resolution of either 1024×600 or 800×480.

800×480?

Yup, we’re goin’ old skool tonite, babeee!

That resolution shows up on the smallest netbooks like the 7-inch variants of the Eee PC and it’s not much screen to work with for a web app. Most web designers / developers I know have stopped worrying about the tiny handful of users still stuck at 800×600 (or, gasp, 640×480).  E.g.: I checked in with web purist @drewmack (http://divwhisperer.com/) and he insists that he only designs for two targets nowadays: 1024 pixels wide and mobile. But now we have a class of users buying new computers designed for accessing the Internet but running at resolutions that most of us have already abandoned.

I have decided to stick with 1024 pixels as a minimum resolution for the Silverlight prototype. Users on a netbook running below 1024px wide can always use the mobile version of the app (if/when one is built).  For the sake of comparison: the iPhone has a 480×320 pixel screen.

What do you think? Is it a fair strategy for consumer-oriented web / RIA sites to treat low resolution netbooks as mobile devices?

  3 comments for “The Netbook Resolution Conundrum

  1. December 17, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Yes. It is fair. In fact as a designer I don’t feel any obligation to forego the extra screen real estate that the emergence of 1024 as the defacto minimum resolution has afforded me just because a laptop manufacturer realizes they can increase sales volumes by selling people cheaper and crappier computers.

    Now if these netbooks become common place the design community will likely retreat to 800, we are after all a community that values accessibility.

    But for the time being I don’t think it makes sense to design for them anymore than I think it would have made sense for governments to build smaller roads when the Geo Metro was introduced. We know how that ended up.

  2. Richard
    May 17, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve been trying to hold clients down to 1024, but because they are looking at a 1280 resolution – or more – all day long on their flatscreen they tend to forget there are still a good number of people still at 1024, and now with the growing popularity of netbooks (the un-computer) that 1024 resolution limit may stick around for quite sometime.

    I’ll continue to try and keep my clients at 1024 until usage of that resolution drops under 20%. Right now according to W3C it is still around 36% (Jan 09).

  3. February 7, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    C.mon, Drew, follow the market. Lots of us use netbooks as a portable extra computer. We want to be able to run the same programs when travelling as we do at our desks. If a program does not run on my netbook, I don’t buy it.

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