A few tweaks of the MacBook and Apple could render the Netbook a non-issue.
At the risk of adding to the cacophony of gratuitous advice directed at Apple, the company could bypass the Netbook and go directly to the inexpensive "ultrathin" category--where Apple seems to be headed anyway with the incredibly shrinking price of the MacBook Air. In short, take the thin, aluminum unibody enclosure that is a MacBook and move it downmarket.
Ultrathins are Netbooks without the compromises. A light, small, pick-up-and-go design that has a reasonable size screen and the horsepower do to what a conventional laptop can do. That is, a slightly smaller, discounted--but not so cheap to be unprofitable--version of the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro. (OK, there's the $999 white MacBook but that's not exactly the future of Apple design.)
And Intel chip designers are doing their best to enable this category (while keeping Netbook silicon static) by delivering a wide range of low-power processors that deliver mainstream laptop performance (I count 12 ultralow-voltage, or ULV, processors offered by Intel at present). Intel executives are doing their part too, spending a lot of time talking up inexpensive ultrathin laptops and, by insinuation, putting down Netbooks.
Ultrathins--when and if they arrive in volume--are expected to have a median price point of about $850 and be, at the most, one-inch thick (and, according to Intel, usually thinner).
The timing could be right. This report from CNET's Crave blog suggests that Apple needs to tone down its pricing to maintain market share. (Whether Apple really cares about maintaining market share is another discussion.) And there is a fairly steady drumbeat of commentary saying Apple needs to consider a cheaper laptop.
That said, there's nothing like the here and now. A consumer today can buy an approximation of an inexpensive ultrathin: a refurbished MacBook Air for $999. That's a start.