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Back in the ’90s, I remember computer hardware vendors used to bring around new systems to the offices of the technology publication where I worked for reviewers and reporters to see.

And every time, the reporters among us would say:,”Hey, can’t you make an ultra-small laptop that we could take with us when we are in the field?” We wanted it to be able to easily connect with the office so we could file our stories when we were at Comdex or Networld+Interop. And we wanted it to be very power-efficient and have a battery that lasted a long time.

The machine didn’t have to be able to do a lot beyond that. It needed word processing, really. We wanted to be able to take notes and write stories on it. If the Web had been as ubiquitous and as great a research tool as it is today, we probably would have also wanted Web access.

Now, here we are in 2009. That laptop that we reporters longed for is finally here and the market for it is huge. The market is made up of bloggers, and social networkers who post on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. It’s made up of citizen journalists leaving their trail on the Web. It’s made up of people at airports and Starbucks, tapping away at tiny keyboards.

Back in the ’90s, the market wasn’t big enough for vendors to deliver that machine. If you’d asked those vendors back then if there would ever be a market for that machine, they would have said no.

But now that everyone is out there reporting, netbooks have taken the market by storm, coming in as the only form factor of computer systems that experienced growth during this recessionary year. Price certainly has played a part in that. But people have also been looking for portability and have shown a willingness to give up some functionality to get it.

So the question that hardware marketers are asking themselves right now is this: What is the big new market of the future? What will people want to use their devices for 10 years from today? Will they be carting around a netbook, a smartphone and an eReader? Or will something else take the place of those devices? What do you think that device will be?