At last count, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had sold at least 13 million netbooks. And by "netbooks," I mean "iPhones."

Go ahead, type your hate mail. I'm inviting it with my facetiousness. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong. Take a Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) netbook and compare it, side-by-side, to an iPhone. What's the netbook have that the iPhone doesn't? More disk space, a keyboard, and a larger screen.

Those are all important if you're doing serious work or creating serious documents. Of course, if you were, you'd use a fully loaded laptop -- not a netbook.

Really!
Dell says as much at its promo page for the Inspiron Mini 9 netbook. Quoting its highlighted customer review:

Small enough to carry everywhere and enough flexibility to be truly useful. Or just think of it as a super-sized BlackBerry or iPhone. Battery life is a full four hours. [Emphasis added.]

And here's how Wikipedia defines a netbook:

A netbook is a light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient, highly portable laptop suitable for web browsing, email and general purpose applications -- primarily noted for its small form factor. [Emphasis added.]

Or, in simpler terms, it's an oversized smartphone without the phone. Which means that Apple, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) are all in the netbook business. The iPhone, especially; the iTunes App Store hosted more than 10,000 applications at last count.

Some of that software caters to our silly side, like the mega-moneymaker iFart Mobile. Others offer serious value, such as Oracle's (NASDAQ:ORCL) business intelligence portal and salesforce.com's (NYSE:CRM) mobile app.

I mention this because some are gushing about Apple's iPhone distribution deal with Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), as if lower prices -- and netbooks! -- will help the iEmpire rule.

Certainly, lower prices would attract attention and sales. But let's also remember that the price-cutters are asking Apple to stop being Apple. Imagine for a moment if the company did. How likely would the Mac maker be to create another new platform, a category-killer that could grow well beyond its initial design? Not very, I think. Innovators create platforms; skinflints don't.

Apple isn't a skinflint, and it shouldn't try to be one. It should forget netbooks. The iPhone is already as good as one, and it'll only improve as the App Store expands its offerings. It's the platform that the much-mocked Newton hoped to be but never was, and it's the precursor to my theory for Apple's Next Great Thing -- a Wi-Fi tablet Mac based on the Safari browser. If I'm right, look for it in 2009.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.