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  • The Media Designs Apple’s Netbook

    April 29th, 2009

    All right, here's what we know: Apple has loads of gear undergoing testing at their corporate campus. We don't know what they're working on, but we can make educated guesses and if a product passes muster, we might even see it in production eventually.

    That surely includes the rumored netbook. Apple says nay, but it's hard to separate the marketing from the reality. Indeed, when and if they do release an gadget that fits into this category, the words "net" or "book" will positively not be part of the name. So, you see, it won't be a netbook, at least by that measure.

    Now don't assume that Apple responds well to pressure. Just because the media says it'll happen doesn't make it so. But if Apple feels they can make a sizable dent into a market on a long-term basis -- and not just for a few months -- you can see how they'd be tempted.

    Now the consensus about the possible Apple netbook -- or whatever it'll be called -- is that it won't be a shrunken notebook. That is the strategy PC makers have followed, since it doesn't require a whole lot of design expertise to produce one. Just make the case and the screen smaller, and fill it with lower-power components.

    Now Apple has actually already had a netbook in its lineup, more or less. Back in the mid-1990s, they built a grown-up Newton message pad with a built-in keyboard called the eMate 300. Not that it did very well, but I recall that my son actually got one on loan at the elementary school he attended at the time. Since there wasn't much in the way of software to run on it, it sort of sat there doing nothing.

    All Apple really has to do, at least for starters, is to take the same concept into the 21st century. So we're talking here about a grown up version of a product that, in part, is a descendant of the Newton, and that's the iPhone.

    The media's would-be designers, therefore, imagine that the Apple netbook would be based on the iPhone operating system. The advantage is that it would already have a large installed basis of customers using products with the iPhone operating system, and an application ecosystem with over 35,000 choices. Sure, something might have to be done to scale up software to work on a larger screen, but it's possible that the built-in system frameworks were already designed to accommodate such changes. It wouldn't make sense to assume that all iPhone-derived products would be expected to have the same display size.

    The next question is whether such an animal would have a built-in keyboard. The problem there is that placing a full-sized keyboard on a such a product might be rather difficult. It may be that the netbook would more closely resemble a tablet or notepad. Like its smaller siblings, this iPad (or whatever you wish to call it) would also employ a virtual keyboard. However, it might make sense to allow you to hook up a standard keyboard via Bluetooth. That's something you can't do with an iPhone or iPod touch, but it would seem rather awkward to run a regular keyboard on such a small device. But something with a nine or ten inch screen might be a better fit for external input devices.

    I wouldn't presume to guess what the final form might take, though I would imagine it being mostly screen and otherwise not dissimilar from an iPhone. No doubt it would also incorporate a telephone application of some sort, but you'd use the built-in speaker and mic or a headset to make calls. Feel free, gentle reader, to flesh out the remaining features of this device.

    However, I am certain it'll be incredibly thin and light and likely weigh less than one pound fully outfitted. More to the point, it might also be the ultimate ebook reader. So far, that's a market where companies have tried and failed, though Amazon's Kindle comes close. Except it's black and white, and a true ebook product ought to include color as well, so you could perhaps read your favorite magazines on it too.

    The larger screen, and no doubt more powerful processors, including the graphics chips, might make for one incredible gaming platform. Already the major game software publishers are jumping on the iPhone bandwagon, and imagine having something with, say, two or three times the horsepower, and a wide range of external controllers. This is getting real interesting, though not to me, since I'm not into games. But I can surely see the potential.

    So what would this beast cost? Well, the media designers are suggesting that, since it'll have telephone and Internet capabilities, Apple might set up a subsidy deal with its iPhone partners, so you could buy one at a discount. Otherwise, the price might come real close to that of a MacBook, and that would seem excessive for a netbook.

    No, I'm not going to try my hand at drawing an iPad. I'm a writer not a graphic artist. Besides, whatever I do come up with, I'm sure Apple can do a whole lot better.

    In any case, is this the basic form of Apple's alleged netbook? Well, it mostly represents the media's version. Apple no doubt has other ideas, and they may still amaze us with the end result. That is, if they decide to even bother.



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    2 Responses to “The Media Designs Apple’s Netbook”

    1. David says:

      When this concept of a larger iPod touch first came up I started imaging a device that was significantly larger, but not necessarily too big to fit one hand around.

      If you put an iPhone display sideways and add a really thin bezel to that you've got a width that most adults can hold in a single hand.

      To get the new height simply multiply the width by 16/9 and you've got a device that works great in portrait orientation for reading text and is perfect in landscape orientation for movies.

      The finished product offers a very usable screen in a compact light package that offers roughly the same the hand spacing as a console game controller.

      Now all you need is a wireless connection to your AppleTV and it's goodbye Wii, hello iTouch Extreme.

    2. John says:

      How about something the size of a checkbook or a bit larger? The Newton had a belt clip of some sort. I'd go more for a messenger bag style for transport. Still small enough to fit in a backpack, briefcase or carry on luggage.

      I'll vote for no keyboard. In addition to the current iPhone method of input remember that Apple has the Ink method for handwriting recognition.

      http://developer.apple.com/documentation/Carbon/Conceptual/using_ink/ink_intro/ink_intro.html

      Assuming the rumors are true, this won't be just a small laptop, it will be a different kind of device. It will have the connectivity of an iPhone so you can use it anywhere but a larger screen for better visibility.

      Suppose it also has the same dock port as an iPhone? This would be a nice way to build all sorts of devices. Oscilloscopes, temperature monitors, seismographs, etc. would all be easy to make. Just hook up the sensor to the device and write some software. All the hassle of the connectivity stuff, the licensing for the radio and such is already done.

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