Oct 032008

The iPhone and Mobile Me seem to have taken up all of Apple’s resources for the past year and a half while the Mac has stayed stuck in time. Now there is a big gaping hole in the Mac linueup. Has Apple missed out on the netbook trend?

In case you have been partying like it’s 2007 all year, netbooks are the adorable little 7″ screen sub-$500 laptops that everyone except Apple has come out with this past summer. Asus started it with the Eee PC and all the other Asian manufacturers quickly followed suit, and then HP and Dell got in to the game in the past month or so. In lieu of something akin from Apple, hackers and Mac enthusiasts have been finding ways to get OS X running on these little buggers like this one on a Dell Mini 9.

It’s very much unlike Apple to miss something like this. Usually they are first to market with the new hottness, not last. So will they get in on it at all? Actually they already did. And it’s sooo not the Macbook Air, which is way too big (in 2 dimensions), de-featured and expensive to be called a netbook. It was in 1997, when they introduced the eMate. The eMate was a clamshell plastic laptop with a 5″ or so greyscale LCD touchscreen (used a stylus) and a close-to-laptop sized keyboard. It was among the first things Steve Jobs cancelled when he came back as head of Apple.

It’s not beyond the believable that Steve would claim that the iPhone is the ultimate netbook and/or dismiss the netbook trend entirely. In fact he’s likely to do that anyway right up until the moment he has one to show us. I’m hoping for something else though – instead of making a smaller laptop, how about a bigger iPhone? A 7″ screen with a thin rolled stainless steel bezel around it would sure look sexy. In fact I’m willing to bet that is precisely what Steve wants to bring to market, and why he cancelled the eMate in the first place all those years ago.

Looking at the eMate I can imagine him saying it’s too big, the UI is too cumbersome, the screen too hard to read, not enough network connectivity or processing power. Then I imagine he started thinking about what would make an ultimate portable computing device and that eventually came to be the iPhone. Now if we can just get something like the iPhone but bigger and more open (srsly Steve – WAY more open) and still under $500, Apple can bury the netbook competition.

I’m holding my breath now until Steve gives me my pony.