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Thin Air

Steve Jobs, at the iPad announcement in January:

Everybody uses a laptop and a smartphone.

And a question has arisen lately: is there room for a third category of device in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and a smartphone. And of course we’ve pondered this question for years as well. The bar’s pretty high. In order to really create a new category of devices, those devices are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks.

Better than a laptop. Better than a smartphone.

Now, some people have thought…that’s a netbook. The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything. They’re slow, they have low quality displays and they run clunky old PC software. So, they’re not better than a laptop at anything. They’re just cheaper. They’re just cheap laptops. We don’t think they’re a new category of device.

According to the latest rumors we’re hearing today, Apple is going to announce a new, smaller, thinner MacBook Air on Wednesday. A 11.6-inch MacBook Air. Some people are saying Steve Jobs will revise his position and carry a new shiny netbook on stage. In my opinion, that’s not gonna happen.

By definition, netbooks are small, lightweight and inexpensive laptop computers. By Jobs’ definition, netbooks are slow, low-quality and unusable laptop computers. In Steve Jobs’ mind, inexpensiveness equals cheapness. Lightweight OS equals clunky old software. He doesn’t see the current generation of netbooks as a viable alternative to bigger, more powerful notebooks.

If Apple’s really going to announce a smaller MacBook Air that many people could call “a netbook”, that device is going to be a “smaller, thinner, yet powerful laptop computer” in Jobs’ definition. An even faster, high-quality and lightweight MacBook Air, ultra-portable and super-usable. Something like that.

Apple is not going to release a netbook as we know it. Just like they didn’t release a regular smartphone in 2007. If the rumor’s true, I’m ready to bet on a new way - perhaps more expensive, but classy - to intend small laptop computers.

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