Article: The Lure of the Netbook

by on September 28, 2009

I own a MacBook Pro. It’s pretty good and does what I need day in and day out. Although I wouldn’t complain if I got a current one (mine’s pre-Unibody if you aren’t a regular reader), I find more and more people using netbooks and I find it very tempting to pick one up and, of course, load Mac OS X on. The logical side of me thinks that I should save my $300, but the geek side of me wants a new toy.

The netbook is an interesting device, or maybe even broader, concept. A miniature notebook computer designed to provide basic computing functions and Internet access in a tiny package. Combine a screen size and resolution that was actually acceptable on a laptop just a few years ago with a different breed of processor and just the bare essentials and you have something that is cheap, easy-to-transport, and makes those of us who have even 5 pound notebooks jealous. Expandability is rather poor, as is the built-in keyboard and trackpad (on most). Instead, what would I do to create the perfect netbook?

The Perfect Netbook in 4 Steps

  • First, I’d change the attitude of the consumer. Many people purchase netbooks expecting a full-size computing experience. I’d slot it between my iPod touch and my MacBook Pro. Typing is probably a bit faster and I have more screen real-estate than a handheld device, but it’s not designed to be my day-to-day computer. Numerous writers who bash netbooks complain about the screen resolution or keyboard size. This is purely stupid because people get wrapped up in the “this could be cool” factor, rather than the purpose for which the device was intended.
  • Second, I’d make changes to the design. The argument that the trackpad is tiny is understandable. How about manufacturers try to innovate in this area? Although I’m used to trackpads, how about a ThinkPad-style eraserhead for navigation? Users would get the same experience on a netbook that they would on a real laptop. I’m really surprised Lenovo decided not to go this route on their S10 netbook, since it is a cousin of their ThinkPad notebooks.
  • Third, I’d try to change the perception that the netbook is “cheap”. The computer may be inexpensive, but there are a number of netbooks out there that are rather useable products. From an Apple geek standpoint, they may not have the fit-and-finish of the latest gadgetry from Cupertino, but they are in line with most of the PC industry. Manufacturers should promote netbooks as the “appliance” computer for those who just want something to get things done.
  • Finally, I’d take the netbook and make it more connected. For a netbook to be the ultimate accessory for another computer, why not make it more like the iPod touch or iPhone? Even something as simple as a target-disk-mode for file synchronization would make it much easier to manage data across multiple devices. Of course, the idea of your data being in “the cloud” is big with the whole netbook mantra, but a number of us work offline or don’t trust that things will always be out there.

Will He or Won’t He?

In summary, the decision comes down to two things: cost and usability. I should be saving my money rather than getting another computer to have in my arsenal (I have 3 1/2 in my daily use—the MacBook Pro, the Mac mini (connected to my TV), my PC at work, and my iPod touch—and then there’s my unused iBook G3). Besides that, I’m lazy and don’t want to keep more devices synchronized than I really need to. One computer that gets an external display at home and a backup drive is a good combination for what I usually do. I’m not saying that netbooks are a bad product, just probably not for me. As such, I’ll be waiting for something really impressive before I break out my credit card.

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