The Case of the Netbookish iPad: How Jobs Said He’d Never Build a Netbook, Then Built One

Image courtesy of Gadgetell.com

When Steve Jobs famously said, “We don’t know how to build a sub-[USD]$500 computer that is not a piece of junk,” the tech media unanimously interpreted this to mean that Apple would never get into the netbook business. After all, what is a netbook? Essentially is a small, compact mini computer that is constructed mainly for the purposes of surfing the ‘net, checking e-mail, social networking, and light gaming. However, there is nothing innovative about the netbook design — it only exists because, more important than any of these defining features, netbooks are usually really cheap. Thus, they were developed not as product leaders in the tech market, but as price leaders; they give people an opportunity to enter the computing world on a shoestring budget.

Jobs made his famous quote back in early 2009, about a year before he announced the iPad and set up a deluge of iPad cases and accessories.. Did he already know at that time that Apple would be releasing a “small, compact mini [tablet] computer constructued mainly for the purposes of surfing the ‘net, checking e-mail, social networking, and light gaming,” and that an entry model would be priced right at USD $500 (A$ 629)? Most certainly.

At the iPad announcement, Jobs made his iPad case by comparing and contrasting his newfangled tablet computer to the netbook. And yet, it can be argued that the iPad is a netbook, albeit the most advanced netbook ever created. Like some of the cheapest netbooks, the iPad’s OS runs off of a chip and is designed around the idea of making mobile, “fun” computing easy and convenient. You can also argue that the iPad is priced like a netbook as well: at only $500 for the entry model, it is at the higher end of the netbook price spectrum, but certainly nowhere near the cost of Apple’s roster of laptop and desktop computers.

But Steve Jobs didn’t really lie when he derided the traditional netbook: to date, Apple has lived up to its commitment to not get into the low-price netbook market. The iPad is not an inexpensive “piece of junk,” but rather a revolutionary tablet device that offers users all the benefits of a compact netbook computer, but with a user interface and app platform that puts the rest of the PC netbook industry to shame.

But wait — new rumors abound that Apple might be designing an even more “netbookish” computer than the iPad!

Word around the Apple campfire is that the computer giant will release an 11.6-inch version of the MacBook Air. Few details accompany this rumor, but the size of this smaller MacBook Air says a lot: an 11-inch laptop is most certainly sized like a netbook.

Of course, the chances of this new MacBook Air costing below $500 are nil, since doing so would completely undermine the iPad. After all, Apple is not content with the iPad being a netbook-like, web-searching fun machine: they are pushing the device and the platform to become a serious, money-making work and productivity powerhouse. But a smallish yet powerful MacBook Air that’s priced below the $629 would userp the iPad as a business gadget.

And it would also make Jobs look like a big, fat liar.

What we conclude, however, is that Steve Jobs and his Apple cohorts do care about the netbook market, and are committed to dominating it in the same way that Apple has come to dominate the consumer desktop and laptop market. Since they have already convinced a big chunk of the market to spend a few more bucks for the higher level of quality and user-friendliness that Apples offer, why would we doubt them that they could make a better line of netbook-inspired gadgets that would be worth breaking the $500 ceiling?

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