Dell kills off its 12-inch netbook

Barely nine months after first appearing in Dell's online catalog, the Inspiron Mini 12 is no more. Dell confirmed the departure on its Direct2Dell blog, saying time has come for the laptop to "ride off into the sunset."

The Mini 12 was Dell's first netbook with a 12" display. According to Google's cache of the listing, the last shipping models featured Atom Z530 processors, 1GB of "onboard" RAM, 60GB 4,200-RPM hard drives, three-cell batteries, and a choice of Ubuntu Linux or Windows XP operating systems. Pricing started at $429 for the Linux model and $549 for Windows-based variants.

Why retire the system now, especially as firms like Asus and Acer are just releasing 11.6" netbooks with similar form factors and hardware? Dell's blog post provides this explanation:

So, should you read anything into this as far as Dell's commitment to the netbook space? Nope. It really boils down to this: for a lot of customers, 10-inch displays are the sweet spot for netbooks. That's why we offer two different 10-inch Inspiron netbooks for Mini 10 and the Mini 10v. And on the Latitude side, the Latitude 2100 netbook is finding a home in schools all over the place. Portability is one of the key points for netbook customers. Larger notebooks require a little more horsepower to be really useful. More to come from Dell on that later.

Based on that last sentence, one would guess Dell might be clearing the way for a consumer-ultraportable laptop with a similar display size. Maybe something like, say, that MSI Wind U200 we heard about last week—12" screen, Core-based Intel processor, Windows Vista, $600-700 price tag, and just as importantly, a nicer profit margin. Dell probably wouldn't want a cheap netbook like the Mini 12 to cannibalize sales of a brand-new CULV machine.

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