It may be hard to remember, but just a few short years ago consumers were snapping up ‘netbooks‘, those laptop lookalikes that were as affordable as they were small, at a rapid pace.

How rapid? 5.6m of them were sold in the third quarter of 2008 alone.

At the time, the rise of the netbook was a positive trend. After all, the more internet-connected devices in the hands of consumers, the better. But there were numerous implications.

For instance, how would the prevalence of devices with low horsepower and smallish screen resolutions impact web design? Such a question was legitimate in 2008.

But today, it appears quite silly. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated smart phones and the emergence of the tablet market, which didn’t exist several years ago, the future of the netbook itself looks bleak.

So bleak, in fact, that it may be time to ask a different question: is the netbook dead? If the reports that Samsung is shuttering what remains of its netbook manufacturing in 2012 are any indication, the answer may be ‘yes‘.

As detailed by Engadget, a French site which purports to have an email Samsung sent to its partners “says that Samsung will switch its focus to 11.6- and 12-inch ultraportables as well as Intel Ultrabooks“.

Intel, of course, is putting its full weight behind Macbook AIR-like ultrabooks, and as Electronista notes, has delayed the release of its next-generation ‘Cedar Trail‘ Atom processors for netbooks and reportedly had to drop support for 64-bit OSes due to technical issues. That certainly won’t help the other netbook manufacturers still planning to launch new devices.

While it’s not clear that the ultrabook will achieve the netbook’s past glory, and it would be incorrect to assume that the netbook’s decline has been at the hands of the tablet, it does appear that the netbook’s place in the market is going to be a lot smaller than thought just a short while ago.

Which serves as a good reminder: the speed at which technology is advancing, and prices can drop, means that no category of device can count on living a long life.