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No, I Don’t Need a Netbook

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.