Would Apple’s netbook be the next iPod?

I remember back in 2003 when only a handful of early adopters in America were buying portable audio players. If I’m recalling correctly, some of the big players at the time were RCA and Creative, among others. Once 2004 rolled around and the 3rd-generation iPods came out, suddenly “everyone” I knew had an iPod. Soon, even armed with my Sandisk player, I had unknowing friends call my portable audio player an iPod. The iPod took over a growing trend and made itself a virtual monopoly in portable media devices.

In recent years, phones have been getting more internet-connected. Blackberries have been the standard for business travellers, but most everyday folks have had crappy no-name web browsers in their phones that can do only some very basic tasks. Suddenly, the iPhone came along, and now… well, not nearly “everyone” but it’s getting close to half of the people I know are getting iPhones or planning to get an iPhone when they can afford it. I had high hopes for the Google phone or the Blackberry Storm; however, all the reviews I’ve read of them have been mixed and make it sound as if the iPhone, despite its own flaws, cannot be beat for sex appeal to the masses.

Now we have these netbooks that are “popular” in the sense that early adopters are excited about them, but really very few people I know have netbooks let alone know of their existence. I bought an Eee PC 701, and I still love it but, like many netbook owners, know that the netbook has not reached its full potential. Some Linux users are optimistic, since most netbooks come with a Linux-preinstalled option, that netbooks could be the key to a Linux-for-home-user revolution of sorts. If that’s to happen, OEMs have to wake up and start making a netbook that is unreservedly the best. I’ve read literally hundreds of reviews of various netbooks, and with every review, there’s something seriously wrong. Some key is placed in the wrong place. The keyboard is too small. The sound is tinny. The processor is too slow. The battery life is too short. The Linux distribution it comes with is crippled.

Why is it so difficult? Really. If an OEM (Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, etc.) came out with a netbook that had these characteristics, I guarantee it’d blow the sales of the other netbooks out of the water:

  • 92%-sized keyboard with important keys in the right places
  • No weird side buttons for the touchpad
  • Nice aluminum casing, no cheap plastic
  • Sleeps when you close the lid, wakes when you open the lid
  • Ubuntu-based Linux that takes advantage of the full Ubuntu repositories
  • “Easy” interface that can easily (meaning a box that checked or unchecked, ticked or unticked) be changed to a more typical “advanced” interface
  • 2- or 3-second boot time
  • Definitely cheaper than the corresponding Windows option
  • Battery life of longer than 4 hours
  • Kernel supports 2 GB of RAM without user modification
  • Ships quickly, no extended delays

Why is that so hard to find? Why does Dell’s Mini come with some weird architecture that isn’t compatible with the regular x86 .deb packages? Why does HP’s Mini-Note use a Via processor? Why does any netbook run with a crippled version of Xandros or with Linpus Linux? Trust me, OEMs, for your own financial good, fix these problems quickly and come up with an all-around great product, not just a sufficiently-good-for-early-adopters product.

If the rumors I’m reading are true and Apple may enter the netbook market soon, this could be another iPod coup. I don’t agree with all the design decisions Apple makes. In fact, I actually am opposed to Apple’s whole approach to user interfaces. I cannot deny, however, that Apple thinks out its decisions and tries to create what they consider a good user experience. And they know how to make their products sexy. See, I don’t mind having an ugly MP3 player that also has a radio, has a really long battery life, and costs half the price of an iPod. But I’m not most people. Most people would much rather have a sleek iPod that costs more, has a cool scroll wheel, and works with iTunes.

I’d love to see Linux get some real success among home users, but if there’s not a Linux netbook that I can unreservedly recommend to friends and family before Apple comes out with one, I’m afraid Linux may miss the boat on this one. Or, even if Apple doesn’t come out with a netbook exactly, if the current line of netbooks stays flawed, netbooks themselves may die out, and the iPhone may take over yet another niche.

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. I don’t think Apple will try for a netbook. It’s not the sort of thing they do. Anybody remember the Mac Mini? That was their attempt to enter into the low-end desktop space, and they botched it in any number of ways. Apple just doesn’t *do* cheap, and price seems to be the major attractive feature of the current crop of netbooks.

  2. The via is a little slow, is it not? I mean, referring to the mini-note, I’ve read quite a few reviews complaining of speed. Also, the mouse button on either side of the trackpad is the mini-note.

  3. Yes, every review I’ve read has said the Via is deathly slow, which is kind of funny, because I have a Celeron processor in my Eee PC, and very few reviews complain about its speed (even though I find it a little slow).

    When I look at pictures of the HP Mini-Note and look at the specifications, and it looks great. But when I read reviews, I always wonder why they’re mainly negative.

  4. I’m typing this on an HP Mini-Note. Yes, the Via processor is slow, but then again, so is the 701’s Celeron.

    For most things, I find the Via faster than the Celeron. I’ve used a few Atom-based netbooks and they seemed a bit faster than the HP’s Via.

    Having said this, I love my mini-note. I think one of the reasons people complain about the CPU is that in every other regard, the 2133 is a no-compromise mini-laptop. People have higher expectations.

    To me, the real problem with the Via CPU is battery life. Yes, it can be sluggish, but that is to be expected. With the six cell be

  5. I’m typing this on an HP Mini-Note. Yes, the Via processor is slow, but then again, so is the 701’s Celeron.

    For most things, I find the Via faster than the Celeron. I’ve used a few Atom-based netbooks and they seemed a bit faster than the HP’s Via.

    Having said this, I love my mini-note. I think one of the reasons people complain about the CPU is that in every other regard, the 2133 is a no-compromise mini-laptop. People have higher expectations.

    To me, the real problem with the Via CPU is battery life. Yes, it can be sluggish, but that is to be expected. With the six cell battery, it barely gets 4 hours in Ubuntu 8.04.1. The same battery for an Atom-based netbook would probably approach six hours.

    Also, the rest of the chipset is problematic. The Via video isn’t as well supported as Intel’s, no DRI etc. Still, I’d rather have my 2133 than any of the Atom-based netbooks – even more than HP’s newer Atom-based 1000s. I’ve seen a few of them, they’re the same price here in Canada, feel cheeper, and are lacking the VGA port. I’d rather have the weaker CPU myself.

    After seven months with the HP Mini-Note, I think it’s the closest to a perfect netbook that I’ve seen. The keyboard and build-quality are perfect.

  6. All the time that Apple are NOT selling netbooks, they are losing out on a huge chunk of market share, currently ruled by Windows and Linux.
    I am an iPhone developer, just 14 years of age. I’m not an official developer, per se, but I do make apps now and again. I have, however, had a go at wading around in the code which makes up iPhone 3.0, the third version of Apple’s iPhone operating system, which is currently in beta.
    When I heard the news that the code was hinting at future Apple products, I went off to found out more. Several weeks ago, I posted on my blog concerning ‘iProd’ and ‘iFPGA’. iFPGA isn’t particularly relevant here – it more or less makes way for more powerful iPhone applications. iProd, however, is much more interesting. Experts suspect that this is some sort of nine inch, touchscreen device – a cross between an iPhone/iPod Touch and a low-end MacBook.
    You can read the full story over at http://blog.stevewiilliams.me.uk/2009/03/25/iprodifpga/
    Apple’s third iPhone model, on the other hand, should be a good one, but hardly affects the expectations of an Apple netbook.
    Some rumours popped up a while ago concerning a MacBook Cloud, supposedly a netbook, but these rumours went majorly unheard of, and have now become ‘extinct’.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply to Tytycoon Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *