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Missing the Point


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Most of the talk about “netbooks” center on

  1. Price point (Cheap!)
  2. The browser as the primary OS (the “net”)

If you think that’s the draw you’re missing the point. It’s the size.

Missing the Point

Years ago American comics makers looked at magna and thought “This will never sell, the art’s too small to be compelling”. Go into any bookstore and compare the graphic novel section with the magna section and tell me who won. Manga became hugely popular with teenage girls because it was small enough to fit in a purse or small-bag.

Netbooks are compelling for the same reason. It’s a computer that will let you do computery things, but it’s truly portable. Laptops are great, but laptops require you cart around an oversized bag and change your normal routine. Their relative cheapness is nice, and the browser as an alterative-to-the-os is an interesting idea, but it’s the size that’s the makes them a truly transformative computing device.

This is the same thing that made the iPod so insanely popular. MP3 jukeboxes were around before the iPod, but the iPod’s tiny size and/or thinness has always been the selling point. The less you notice it, the more likely you are to carry it around.

There’s two directions Apple could go with a netbook. The first is a shrunken down iBook/Macbook; a full-on computer that’s small enough to fit in your bag (and will cost about the same as a normal laptop). The second is a bigger iPod touch/iPhone. Take the iPhone OS, make the device twice the size.

The second product is far less compelling to me. It’s clear that there’s a battle inside Apple as to whether the iPhone/iPod Touch is a computer or a consumer-media device. There’s plenty of reasons for Apple to be acting the way it is w/r/t the iPhone and the App Store, but the end result of that behavior is a device that’s not as useful as it potentially could be.

For people who grew up in the 70s and 80s the draw of a personal computer was a device that could do anything you wanted it to. Buy a computer and you can make it a TV, a media player, an art installation, an accounting machine. Given enough time, you can make it anything.

The iPhone, as great as it is, is a device for consuming media. A “Big iPhone netbook” would be the same thing. A cool gadget? Yes. Something with the power to transform the world around you? No.

Originally published December 14, 2008

Copyright © Alan Storm 1975 – 2021 All Rights Reserved

Originally Posted: 14th December 2008