∞ Apple's netbook and why we'll never see it

Deep in the hallways of Apple’s Cupertino headquarters sits an Apple netbook. That’s right, it’s there, but it will never see the light of day. Why? Because it’s just like every other netbook, and thankfully, that’s just not good enough for Apple. macbookairBesides the fact that I know the company has a netbook, it makes perfect sense that they have one. Think about it–a new product category crops up and you think Apple doesn’t have a few prototypes in the works, just to see what they can do different. Of course they do.

The problem with a netbook is that it’s a netbook. I’m not a big fan of them in general because I expect something more from what is essentially a scaled down notebook. I think Apple does too and that’s why Apple’s netbook will never make it to consumers.

What could Apple possibly do to change the category–better yet revolutionize the category? I’m sure they could release some cool things and make it thin and lightweight, but that’s hardly revolutionary.

Apple hasn’t denied that they are keeping on eye on the space, but thoughts from top executives have been quite clear. Here’s what Apple COO Tim Cook said during the earnings conference call with analysts in April:

For us, it’s about doing great products. And when I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience… that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly. And so it’s not a space, as it exists today, that we’re interested in, nor do we believe that customers in the long term would be interested in.That said, we do look at the space and are interested to see how customers respond to it. People that want a small computer (so to speak) that does browsing and e-mail might want to buy an iPod touch or an iPhone. So we have other products to accomplish some of what people buy netbooks for. So in that way we play in an indirect basis.And if we can find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas in this space. The product pipeline is fantastic for the Mac. If you look at the past, in 17 of the last 18 quarters we’ve exceeded the market rate of growth, and to exceed it in this horrendous economy is quite an accomplishment, especially if you look at these very low-cost netbooks that I think is a stretch to call it a personal computer, that are really propping up unit numbers as a whole.

Here’s something else to consider: consumers are confused about the whole notebook, netbook thing. A recent report from NPD found that 60 percent of consumers who purchased a netbook instead of a notebook thought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks.

Can you imagine the screaming about how bad Apple’s computers are if they released a netbook when the people buying didn’t know what they were getting? Despite the fact that other PC manufacturers can get away with releasing inferior computers, Apple is held–and holds itself–to higher standard.

What Apple is more likely to do is release the long rumored tablet. This would be revolutionary. It would be a brand new category that the rest of the industry would try to emulate, copy and steal, after trying to convince themselves they aren’t worried about the new product.

Apple has redefined the music player category, the smartphone market and now they are on the verge of doing it with the tablet. I’m not saying the tablet will be coming out any time soon, I think only Steve Jobs knows that. What I am saying is that it will be a game changer when it does arrive.

People have speculated for months that an Apple netbook release was imminent. I don’t believe it. I’ll wait for something more revolutionary.