acer netbookGoodbye netbook, hello tablet.

Taiwanese computer maker Acer is phasing out its netbook series of ultra-small computers with the forthcoming release of new Android tablets, which are due in the first half of 2011, according to a Computerworld report.

Acer’s announcement marks for the company a move away from the netbook-style computer — a category which helped fuel Acer’s rapid growth and profitability — in favor of the tablet.

Tablets are seen as a vital category for all computer makers, as evidenced by Apple’s insanely popular iPad and the fervor with which other device makers are entering the market. Acer’s decision is further proof that manufacturers are treating the tablet as a serious alternative for personal computing and not just a fad. As Acer’s sales manager Lu Bing-hsian put it in the report, “They [the new tablets] are aimed at phasing out netbooks. That’s the direction of the market.”

While Lu was short on details, it seems Acer’s new tablets – with 7- and 10-inch displays – are going to run Google’s Android operating system and use Intel’s Sandy Bridge four-core processors. The processors could prove to be a competitive edge for Acer, as the quad-core Sandy Bridges will make the tablets some of the fastest on the market.

Lu indicated in the report that the company still intends to make netbooks (and the company recently introduced a laptop/tablet hybrid, the Iconia), which have so far been a popular low-cost alternative to an actual laptop and a successful line of products for the company, but will manufacture fewer of them than previously.

The new tablets will also be aimed for “common users” with the same kind of computing needs once serve by netbooks, rather than gamers or casual media consumers who flick through digital magazines or watch YouTube videos. This would mean that Acer is betting users will embrace the tablet for content creation, not just consumption. That’s a challenge, considering that some users still struggle to type email on a tablet touchscreen. But if Acer, long a champion of the netbook, is right, it looks like the small, cheap laptop is facing extinction.

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