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TUAW Deep Thoughts: How netbooks conquered the universe

Look around out there. Netbooks are not only ubiquitous, they have basically conquered all of reality.

Before you do a spit take and start saying words that are unsuitable for TUAW's family friendly audience, let me remind you of Apple's iPad introduction. Steve Jobs laid out the plan for how the unit would operate: as a middle ground between laptops and mobile phones, it would allow people to browse the web, check for email, enjoy media, play games, and read.

In other words, Jobs was introducing netbooks for the rest of us.

Reimagining the form factor but not the functionality brought the netbook into huge demand (and basically put paid to the more traditional keyboard/screen layout). For a few hundred dollars, people could do all the basic computing they want while on the road, with insanely great battery life, and with an OS that's built for serial unitasking, in a super-comfortable form factor.

Basically, Apple built a better netbook and it triumphed.

This kind of appliance computing experience hides complexity from the user with minimum compromise. The user experience allows people to do certain tasks slickly, simply, and effectively. The focus isn't on ultimate flexibility, it's on convenience. Netbook computing is all about the appliance experience -- it does its job and just that job.

The result was that the iPad exploded. The demand for it showed a basic truth. People liked a simple unit that even a baby or cat could operate. They could still all do the core tasks they had done on standard computers, but they could do it on the go without any training and with a unit that fit into the crook of their arm.

The big question that remains is: What next? Can Apple migrate its iPad/netbook lessons to other platforms? Could we see an appliance desktop or notebook next? As I wrote in an earlier post, I think we're likely to see a computer that adapts to its situation -- on the road or at home or in the office. But while we've seen the mobile side of this story, how might home computing change? Will OS X take netbook lessons from the iPad?

Some readers responded to my last post by suggesting that anyone incapable of fully operating OS X should not be using it. But when has Apple left potential customers on the table? Why shouldn't they re-jigger OS X (or a version of OS X) to create the same kind of netbook experience demonstrated by Steve Jobs at the top of this post? After all, those tasks are what most people do.

Sure, there are professional users as well who would not benefit from appliance computing, but there are plenty more currently struggling away on Windows who could easily make the jump to a simplified iMac (or even Apple TV) if the choice were offered to them.

Netbooks and the iPad taught us this: if the hardware is affordable, light, easy-to-use, and helps people accomplish their core tasks, the customers will be there to buy them.

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