Farhad Manjoo has a great article in Slate explaining how (and why) Apple killed the market for so-called “netbooks.” Worth a full read, but here is an excerpt:
Apple alone stood against the tide of netbooks. Apple’s brilliant insight was that despite netbooks’ popularity, nobody really wanted a netbook per se. Instead, Apple realized that people who were buying netbooks were looking for one of two things—they wanted full-fledged laptops that were very portable, or they wanted cheap machines that allowed them to easily surf the Web, use email and do other light computing tasks. Rather than building a single netbook that fit both these audiences poorly, Apple built two machines that were, each in its own way, much better than any netbook ever sold.
In 2008, Apple launched the expensive but very portable MacBook Air, and then in 2010, it put out the cheap but capable iPad. Neither was a direct substitute for the netbook. But consumers immediately recognized their utility—and quickly abandoned netbooks. The iPad and the Air became the blueprints for the rest of the industry, with every other PC manufacturer now making similarly thin laptops and touchscreen tablets. Thus, thanks to Apple—and Apple alone—we were all saved from the rise of terrible tiny machines.