My wife and I are Apple snobs. I’ve been a full-fledged Apple snob ever since I became paranoid about computer security and too lazy to deal with making Linux work on a laptop. My wife followed after I gave her her first hand-me-down iBook and she discovered the joys of good interface design and an OS that got out of your way.
Now, to be sure I use other operating systems. I’ve used a LOT of operating systems. I’m a systems administrator by trade so my experience has run the gamut from OS/2 to Windows to most flavors of UNIX and Linux. I’m the quiet, smug Apple snob you want to punch in the face, but I use Vista at work and thought Solaris was God’s gift to SysAdmins. I’m never really sure why I feel the need to try to differentiate myself from other sorts of Apple snobs, but there it is. I guess I’m just a lazy computer user. I don’t want to deal with viruses. I don’t want to tinker under the hood with my own computer. People pay me to do that. I just want something that’s ready, willing, and able to do my light word processing, email and Internet. That it’s all wrapped up in the sexiest hardware on the planet is just a bonus.
Here’s the thing though. I’ve always LOVED tiny machines. Little laptops are like the bug zapper I throw myself against in the mall. I lusted after Libretos. My first laptop was a Mac Duo, back before I really understood the nature of my Apple Lust. I bought one of the first iBooks. Tiny is where it’s at. Laptops are supposed to be portable. You know, carry them around like a Note-Frikin-Book. They aren’t supposed to be ‘luggable’. The original iBook was alright, but by today’s standards it’s a brick. I had a MacBook Air for a while, and it was nice and thin, sexy beyond measure, and… big. I know, I know, it’s thin enough to slice bread or star in a Quentin Tarentino Movie. As a form factor though, and as a ‘grab it by the spine and walk to a meeting’ kind of appliance, it just couldn’t cut it.
Netbooks are eating the MacBook Air’s lunch. Sure, they’re clunkier, thicker, more brickish. At the same time they’re SMALLER. They really do get to the form-factor of a hard-bound book, hell smaller if you completely geek-out and pick up the latest from Neal Stephenson. Why can’t he go back to books you can read like Snow Crash or The Diamond Age? Why does everything he writes have to be a threat to small animals and children if hurled across the room? But I digress.
After seeing all the cool Netbooks that were being released into the market in some Darwinian spooge of variety in the gene pool I had to try one out. E-bay and my brother-in-law took care of my MacBook Air (thank you Sean) and I plunked down an insanely small amount of money for a Lenovo S10. I’ve got to say this little machine is everything I could hope for. Nice big hard drive for all my media, decent keyboard for typing blog screeds over double-half-caf-mocha-bazooka-lattes, good sized screen. Hell, I hear if you Hackintosh them you’d think you left your MacBook in the dryer too long and a cute little parody popped out. I’d love to buy an Apple Netbook and have all the luxuries that are afforded someone who is willing to pay the Apple Tax.
Apple doesn’t make a Netbook. This week Apple said during it’s financials call that it was watching the space, but they couldn’t understand why people would want to buy the crap that’s out there now in the space. Lots of people have pointed to this as Apple missing the boat at best, as more Apple snobbery and elitism at the worst. You know though, I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard Apple ask why people thought they should get into a space, why would they try to do something that was just such a terrible fit for them? Yeah, I heard that before the iPod, and I heard it again before the iPhone. Apple’s got to be cooking up something pretty good out at their Skunkworks.
Apple’s got a good lock on the Laptop market. Apple’s got an outstanding lock on the iPhone market. The thing I see happening is a development of a market between the two. Right now people do quick things with their iPhone. They call, they SMS, they e-mail, maybe they run custom apps. They do quick things on the iPhone, waiting for the bus, in line at the supermarket. It’s about as much a computing platform as say, an ATM. Convienient, yes. Cool, yes. Culture changing, yes. Ultimately though it’s not a thing for even semi-serious work. Latops, traditional laptops, can do serious work. More and more people rely on them as their primary machine. You have to cary them in an Indiana Jones bag though. You sit at Starbucks or Panera and leach their WiFi to do the cool stuff with them.
Netbooks are finding the spot between the two. Hell, HP’s new Netbooks are styled and marketed like handbags. Sony’s new Vaio (which looks like an Apple by the way) is styled as a ‘lifebook’. They’re all really down-sized laptops though. You’ve got a laptop OS that you have to fart around with to make work. Worse, if you want to get free WiFi working be prepared to fight with XP’s terrible WiFi stack. Hrm… what sort of OS could get out of your way, have some built in functionality with quick wireless networks as well as WiFi, and could work well on a small form-factor screen?
The InterTubes have been a buzz about some ‘Jumbo iPhone’ for years now. I think this is where Apple’s going. I think there are two big obstacles to the adoption of the big money maker though. One, Steve Jobs hates the Newton. One of the first things he did when he came back to Apple was to kill off the Newton. Not such a bad idea in my opinion at the time. The Tech wasn’t ready, it’s probably still not quite ready. Super iPhone smacks of Newton on the surface. It’s not, but I’ve got the feeling that the anti-Newton sentiment is holding it down.
The second problem is the keyboard. Now, I love my Lenovo’s keyboard. It’s good enough to do real writing on. Apple’s not going to slap a keyboard on a Super iPhone though. They also probably won’t do a flip-out keyboard a-la the Blackberry, scaled up for Super Phone. I’m not sure really what could be done to address this issue. Apple’s let slip a few cool ideas for keyboards on screens, but that’s all pie-in-the-sky stuff. I think though if and when Apple figures out how to do a keyboard properly on Super iPhone we’ll see the 3rd big thing in the consumer electronics market that Apple can own.
Kindle is trying to be iPod for books. It gets a lot of things right, but Amazon has missed the boat a bit by catering to it’s core business. Super iPhone is going to be nothing less than the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’ll be about the same form factor as a book, you’ll be able to connect from anywhere, to anywhere and it’ll keep a better charge than a Netbook OR an iPhone. Who knows when, or if, Apple will get off the pot and pull another rabbit out of their hat. You can be sure someone will. If that someone isn’t Apple we’ll all be the worse for it, putting up with crappy Linux implementations on what should be Apple’s 3rd pillar.