No, I Don’t Need a Netbook

November 27th, 2008

There’s been an awful lot of discussion lately about whether Apple plans to enter the “nascent” netbook market. While the name should pretty much convey the meaning of the product it describes, here’s a common definition (so we get our terms straight): “A small, low-cost, mobile computing device designed for consuming content, rather than creating new content.”

Now the iPhone is actually a pretty close match to that description, but the common perception of a network is something closer to a small note-book computer. Indeed, Apple’s legendary eMate 300, a grown-up Newton, might have been one of the first products to fit into that category.

The MacBook Air doesn’t rate, because it’s really a full-size portable sporting the same sized screen as a regular MacBook and a correspondingly full-sized keyboard. The enhanced graphics capabilities of the refreshed model make it an even more complete solution for many devoted road warriors.

On the other hand, the PC contenders in the netbook game tend to be little more than dumbed down computers with tinier screens, slimmer keyboards and low-power processors. They are best suited for email, Internet surfing, basic word processing chores and, indeed, even keeping simple financial records. At a cost of a few hundred dollars, they are regarded as the next great thing in personal computing.

That is, assuming there are enough people out there who want what is essentially a crippled computer, at least in this day and age. Ten years ago, they’d be powerful beasts.

So where does the iPhone fit in? Well, for the most part, it actually meets most of the netbook requirements, at least as far as Internet access is concerned. It’s also a whole lot easier to lug around than even a three pound netbook.

But when it comes to even the most simple text editing chores, however, the iPhone is a big-time loser. Sure you can write short letters, and I will sometimes make an emergency edit on this site using a special WordPress application. It doesn’t make sense, though, why Apple continues to put such features as cut, copy and paste on the black burner. It severely restricts some of the iPhone’s potential.

Apple is quoted as saying that this feature is on the “to do” list, and will arrive eventually, but that other features have taken greater priority. Maybe, but putting both the address and search bars within the narrow confines of Safari in the latest iPhone software, version 2.2, surely doesn’t seem to have a greater level of importance. Nor does it make a whole lot of sense.

However, it’s also clear to me that Apple will continue to chip away at the iPhone’s shortcomings, so it may well be that, sometime in the next few months, more of the features for which folks have been clamoring will make their appearance. I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, to see some new fascinating new stuff announced during the Macworld 2009 keynote address.

The question, though, is whether improvements in the iPhone would supplant the need for an Apple netbook. As far as I’m concerned, that would suit me just fine. When I want a note-book computer, I take my 17-inch MacBook Pro along with me. To me the true portable must be the equivalent of having a desktop on the road, which is why I choose that particular option.

In terms of flexibility, there isn’t a whole lot I can do on my desktop Mac Pro that I can’t do on a note-book, although performance won’t be quite as good.

However, I realize many of you regard a 17-inch portable as just too ungainly, and too heavy to drag around through airport terminals. Between the MacBook and the MacBook Air, there are plenty of options. Indeed, these products appear to be among the few hot tickets during this holiday season.

But it’s also clear to me that Apple is watching the network situation real carefully, and if they feel they can sell a bundle of them, it won’t be long before they deliver a response in this product space.

So what form would it take? Would they simply take a MacBook and give it a healthy diet to make it smaller and cheaper? After all, it does seem that a miniature MacBook Air would be rather too closely to compete.

Or will Apple choose the other direction, a sort of iPhone Pro, which takes a souped up version of the iPhone’s chassis and installs it in a larger case with a bigger screen and perhaps a normal-sized keyboard.

No, it’s not my cup of tea. But if there are enough people out there who think otherwise, you can be reasonably assured that some fascinating announcements are in store from Apple in 2009.

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14 Responses to “No, I Don’t Need a Netbook”

  1. Russ says:

    I would respectfully disagree with you that the iPhone is the equivalent of a Netbook. I have both a 17″ MBP and an iPhone. Sometimes, I find myself wishing for something in between. In previous jobs, I don’t think I would have been able to compromise. I did a lot of travel, often for a week at a time. My notebook computer was my primary computer and I couldn’t imagine traveling without it. Today, most of my travel is local and I come home every night. For these trips, it would be nice to have a Netbook. I would like this device to have a larger screen – perhaps the size of a typical paperback book. I could use it to surf the internet, check and respond to email and perhaps read some eBooks. I could use the iPhone for some of these tasks, but I find the screen too small to be comfortable doing it. I realize that I would be carrying both an iPhone and a Netbook, but this would be a reasonable compromise for me. Perhaps I would even trade in my MBP for an iMac.

  2. Well you need to hold on there. Actually, I explained why the iPhone isn’t there right now, and why I don’t care about the mini-notebook, netbook or whatever.


  3. Andrew says:

    I’m with Russ on this one. I have a 15″ MacBook Pro that I take with me on longer trips and also use at home and in the office. It is does everything my Mac Pro in the office does, only a bit slower and not as many things at the same time.

    On shorter trips, or long trips that require many flights, I still grab my 5-year-old 12″ PowerBook, which is infinitely more handy than the 15″ MacBook Pro. In today’s terms, that 12″ PowerBook IS a netbook. It is small, lighter (could be lighter) and runs a full-featured operating system (Tiger) on a low powered processor. When it dies I hope that Apple will have a netbook in its lineup, and if not, I’ll head to eBay for another 12″ AlBook.

  4. Jim says:

    What the iPhone has shown is that you can do an awful lot of computing tasks on a device without much horsepower. A year ago, my wife and I took a 10-day Napa Valley to San Diego road trip with only an iPhone as our computer. We checked home and work e-mail, found motels and made online reservations, found local attractions and restaurants, got maps and directions, checked weather, etc. But (as Gene states) the iPhone is not quite there yet as a laptop substitute.

    I would love to see Apple’s take on a smaller notebook computer. An affordable two-pound Mac OS X netbook with an Atom or Apple-custom processor, 10-inch screen, a keyboard and trackpad, and one or two Gb of memory would be very appealing to me.

    I’m an Apple fan because I like computers that just work, but I must admit I’ve been intrigued with the efforts to get OS X running on the MSI Wind and comparable computers. And at around $300-$400 bucks, the price is right.

  5. TimHolt says:

    Apple used to say that Education was in it’s DNA…
    Today, HP and Dell sell full scale 15 inch laptops for around $500 to education. The cheapest Apple laptop to education is around $895…you do the math.

    The iPhone cannot complete in the education market yet because it does not do flash, and MOST online education sites use Flash.

    So add it up:
    Apple has no low cost laptop for education.
    The iPhone /Itouch does not do Flash
    The competition is eating their lunch on price
    Netbooks at $300 are being looked at very seriously by the huge education market, because of price point.
    Apple needs a netbook or something like it at a competitive price point pretty soon if they want to stay in the one-to-one education market.

  6. Pricing is pretty much everything in the education market.

  7. AdamC says:

    The ipod touch will one day evolve into a netbook but it wouldn’t be cheap.

  8. AdamC wrote:

    The ipod touch will one day evolve into a netbook but it wouldn’t be cheap.

    Perhaps, but they’d have to make it blossom into something with a larger screen and maybe a dedicated keyboard.

    Like, for example, the legendary eMate 300.


  9. Jeff Lewis says:

    No disrespect, but you’re coming at this from a very weird perspective, which to me reads “Apple doen’t make one (yet), so I don’t need one (yet).”

    I own an iPhone, an AspireOne netbook and a Toshiba M700 touch/wacom tablet PC laptop. My Aspire is in a very compact shoulderbag and it goes with me literally everywhere. Ironically, ALL of your complaints about the Aspire are actually why I find the iPhone completely unusuable for most things: screen too small, no keyboard (and the onscreen one is painful to use), underpowered, not enough good apps.

    That’s where the Aspire comes in. The keyboard is small, but quite usable. The screen is 1024×600 and 9″ in size – which is great for video, light browsing and most other ‘bursty’ functions like email.

    That’s the distinction – the netbook is perfect for compact, portable *bursty* use, and with a 6 hr battery life (which eerily isn’t affected by video – one hour of video uses one hour of battery life!) it really does fill in a lot of gaps and problems laptops and iPhones have.

    Which brings us to Apple. Jobs has made it clear he’s uninterested in this market at this time, but while Jobs doesn’t believe Apple can make a $500 computer that’s not junk (just barely winging the Mac mini in the process), other companies like Asus and Acer apparently thing they can.

    And guess what? They’re right.

    And let’s get over the ‘legendary’ eMate 300. It was a low end PDA reshaped into a clamshell. I can *emulate* the eMate 300 on my Aspire using Einstein. Heck, I can emulate 68K Macs on my Aspire.. wait.. I can RUN MacOS X 10.5.4 on my Aspire natively! Yes, it’s one of the smallest, most portable Macs too.

    Join us here in the 21st Century…

  10. >> I can RUN MacOS X 10.5.4 on my Aspire natively!<<

    That sounds good! Please explain how you do that!

  11. Bill in NC says:

    There is a Leopard distribution out there for most Atom-based netbooks.

    The easiest netbook to get running Leopard is probably the MSI Wind.

    The Wind (with 1GB memory, 120GB hard drive, and Windows XP) is about $350.

    The wireless card does not support OS X, so you’ll need to swap with a Dell 1390/1490 wireless card ($15 on ebay)

    You can add another 1GB RAM module (same RAM as the Macbook) and have 2GB RAM max.

    I’m loading Leopard on my Wind netbook as soon as the replacement wireless card arrives.

    Then I’ll have a dual-boot (Leopard & WinXP) portable for very little money.

  12. BruisedLee says:

    If a netbook fits your needs, get one. If not, don’t. Disparaging users who buy netbooks as being poor or clueless is just immature fanboy-izm. Netbooks have a very useful niche among frequent travelers who don’t want the heft (and liability) of a shiny, pricey, Macbook theft-magnet. Being cheap, nigh disposable, is an advantage if you’re visiting 3rd world countries for extended periods, blogging and emailing from a guesthouse in SE Asia, killing time waiting for an airport connection, etc.

    I wonder how many of the detractors here actually travel, I mean really travel, with their Macbook Pros and Airs. Not a weekend car trip or lugging your computer bag from car-to-office and back, nor a quick run to the local coffee shop to pose with the other aspiring writers and hipsters, but really walking all day with your laptop in a backpack, travelling for weeks or months in areas with spotty internet access and frequent brownouts and blackouts. In these conditions a cheap, sub-3lb netbook is indeed very handy.
    When I’m home I’ll enjoy my 24? iMac, I have no desire to stress about a $2K MBP being in my bag when I’m on the road.
    Peace y’all.

    • Since I haven’t traveled to any third-world countries and don’t plan to in the foreseeable future, I’m content with my 17-inch MacBook Pro. I don’t stress about losing it, since that’s what insurance is for. Also, my son has taken his black MacBook around Europe and the U.S. and hasn’t complained about weight or flexibility. It has survived his abuse well, and chugs along.

      I agree that if you like netbooks, buy them. But is it worth the inconvenience to have a disposable computer that may not suit your needs?


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