Did Lenovo Invent Apple's Netbook?

In Silicon Valley's clash of innovation and ego, it's hard to remember who invented what. Oftentimes a company invents something it's not ready to ship. Another company ships something it didn't invent. Both companies jockey for the credit.

The iPhone is a perfect example. Back in 2006, it became clear that several handset makers were ready to embrace a new idea for cell phones. Instead of devices with small screens and numeric or alphabetic keypads, these companies planned to ship cell phones that were all screen and no keypad. The buttons would be mere software pressed on-screen.

Apple Inc. was one of those companies, but its product would be beat to market by handsets from Asian manufacturers. So Apple did something unusual. CEO Steve Jobs fully unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, nearly six months before it would ship. The resulting hype suffocated awareness of the Asian handsets.

Now everybody associates all-screen, touch-screen cell phones with Apple and the iPhone. Most casual observers assume Apple invented that type of device, and that everyone else is copying the iPhone.

Here comes the ultimate netbook

In the run-up to Apple's big iPhone 3.0 announcement this week, rumors about an Apple netbook reached fever pitch. Would the company ship one? If so, would it be a clamshell or a tablet? Would it run Mac OS or the iPhone operating system?

Some rumor-mongers speculated about a midyear launch, but others suggested that Apple would employ the old "one more thing" shtick to surprise the industry with its new netbook during this week's iPhone 3.0 rollout. It didn't happen, but many thought it would.

During this frenzy of speculation, photos "leaked" of a truly breathtaking netbook from Lenovo Group Ltd., the Chinese company that acquired the ThinkPad division of IBM.

Initially, the Lenovo netbook, called the Pocket Yoga, was reported as a soon-to-be-shipping product. Then it emerged (on my blog, among other places) that the Pocket Yoga was nothing more than a two-year-old concept that Lenovo had no plans to build.

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