An Argument For an Apple Netbook

| Just a Thought

If you've been paying any attention to technology this year then you'll know that netbooks, the class of wee laptops pioneered by ASUS, is the talk of the town. Few hardware makers can figure out where, in the grand scheme of things, these little devices fit in their lineup. Make them too underpowered and they look like toys, make them too powerful and they could siphon sales from more profitable offerings.

Hardware makers like HP and Dell are content to test the waters with some interesting devices that are stylish as well as convenient. But style and convenience isn't reason enough, in my never so humble opinion, for Apple to get into the netbook business, they have to offer something more.

More is an easy thing for Apple; their computers come with a whole host of useful applications all designed to let you get something done. If Apple took that same philosophy and applied it to netbooks what might they come up with?

How about a netbook patterned after the plastic MacBooks, but these would sport a copious 10.2-inch wide aspect screen and full sized keys similar to those on HP's Mini. Give it 32GB of solid state hard drive space, standard 1GB of RAM and a Compact Flash (CF) or Secure Digital (SD) card slot. Also give it WiFi, Bluetooth, and at least two USB 2.0 ports. Make it rugged so that it can survive in backpacks and briefcases and still look good. Maybe rubberize the exterior or give it a tough aluminum shell. Run it all with Mac OS X. No CD/DVD drive needed, thank you very much.

Ok, so we are not talking about anything much different than what HP and Dell currently offers. Here's where Apple differentiates itself: include a one year subscription to MobileMe and Net aware versions of iWork. MobileMe iDisk and the computer at home become the main storage devices. With iWork installed real work can be done. With MobileMe, access to all of your data is possible, and Apple's Mail app in MobileMe means your mail is always available.

Of course, you're not tied into MobileMe or iWork, you could use Google apps (Docs, Mail, etc) or other cloud services, and while OpenOffice is a chubby app it can offer tools that may be more familiar to those used to Microsoft Office -- and it will still fit nicely in 32GB of storage. Even so, MobileMe and Apple apps would give you the full Apple experience and connectivity that other services and applications just can't provide.
 
Is that a strong enough argument for Apple to come out with a netbook?

Well, consider this: MobileMe usage would increase thus creating a constant revenue stream, and a Net enabled iWork would make MobileMe more palatable for other Apple laptop users not currently subscribed. Add to that the relatively secure closed and controlled environment Apple would provide and you have a very compelling offering.

One last thought; If Apple introduced a netbook now its timing couldn't be better. The economy is in a tailspin and people are keeping their wallets shut tight. Apple may feel the affects of this more acutely because Apple products, especially its laptops, are considered to be premiumly priced. Introducing a truly cost concious device and service now might be just the ticket to keep people flocking to Apple Stores.

And there's no resond to think that netbook sales would cut into Macbook or iPhone sales, in therse trying economic times people buy only what they think they need. Apple would be grabbing sales from the like of ASUS and Dell, but only a very small percentage of those people considering Macbooks.

One last thought; An Apple netbook (maybe resurrect the iBook name?) would sell like snowcones on a hot Summer day in the education arena. Parents of college bound students would feel a lot of relief with the complete Apple offering as opposed to that from HP, Dell, and others.

Basically, an Apple netbook could generate a new source of income for Apple, and a varied income source is what any business would want, right?

So, an Apple netbook at Macworld? I honestly don't know, but if they do introduce one it would sure take some of the sting out of Steve Jobs' absence.

Should Apple netbook? Most definitely!

Note: After writing this article I saw a rumor over at 9 to 5 Mac that suggests that Apple will indeed put iWork in a cloud. I would be cool is the stars are aligning for an Apple netbook. Keep those fingers crossed.

 

Comments

Tiger

Vern,

Happy New Year. And I still beg to differ on this. When Apple came out with the 12.1” PowerBooks, everybody complained that they were too small. Hell, they complain that the 13.1” screen is too small.

Then came the iPod. People complain that the screen is too small for video. More real estate. That’s what people want. Heck, I just bought a 22” flat screen for my desktop because the 19” had worn out it’s welcome!

Smaller may be portable, but FUNCTIONAL? Not for long. Squinting is not my idea of working. Apple did the small form factor (I was a Newton fan too). But it didn’t work in the marketplace. I think the current Netbooks are a fad that will pass faster than the tablet phase (which is SO over!). While they might seem like a good idea at the time, the longevity just isn’t there. Remember when people bought Macs that would last for 10 years and NOT end up in landfills? (two of my 3 macs are at 6 years and going strong) Netbooks are just landfill in waiting. They’d do better to just put computer kiosks on the corners of major streets and allow customers access to them for a small fee. If you want true portability, adapt the iPhone with a video out so that they plug into a pair of sunglasses and feed the video right before your eyes. Accomplishes the same thing.

My $.02.

J

BanjoBanker

Good thoughts, Vern. I have been opposed to an Apple net book, but you make an excellent argument for one. I might even buy one to replace the trusty 12” PB I travel with.

macdiehard

I would just love a Mac OS netbook. In fact, if Apple does not come out with one soon, I will be buying a Windows-based one to combine with a Mac desktop.

J, maybe I would agree with if a netbook was one’s only computer, but for me the optimal setup would be a small, highly portable computer plus a desktop at home. The portable computer needs to be just big enough to type emails and to do light work. Word processing and spreadsheets can easily be done with today’s slowest processors. If you need a larger screen and keyboard, these can be plugged in. Also needs to be cheap to keep the total cost (netbook + desktop) reasonable. This has the added advantage that one does not have that much tied up in a computer that is at much more risk of theft and breakage than a desktop. One could have a netbook plus an iMac for less than the cost of a MacBook Pro with more power and a much bigger screen.

I do not think netbooks are a fad. Almost everyone likes more mobility yet few need near-desktop power when out and about. Up to now, though, extremely small notebooks were extremely expensive. The netbook gives one all that is needed when away from home or office plus leaves enough room financially to have a very good desktop as the primary computer. This is a game-changer, not a fad.

award

Just a stupid question from a recent convert ... just what is the difference between a MB Air and a netbook?

My own answer, for what it’s worth, is “about 500 grams, and $1200”.

If Apple can lighten the Air a bit without loosing strength or looks (more polycarbonate?), and get the price tag down to say $600 (against a $300 Asus), the masses will surely follow.

Cheers,
-Alan

Lee Dronick

With the way that miniaturization is going it will not be long before could see a more functional netbook. Not that you can not use them now, but as Tiger mentioned the screen size is a concern. Now if anyone can lick that problem it will be Apple. I can visualize a triptych type of monitor that folds out and perhaps a keyboard too so that when closed the netbook is the size of “pocket book.” 

In the meantime for my needs my iPhone fills the bill as a netbook and when I need to escape the house to do some more serious work I take my MacBook.

geoduck

I was against the NetBook idea for a long time. NetBooks are generally too underpowered and cramped to be useful. I ‘ve come around to the concept though, however I don’t think that Apple should make a tiny screen/cramped keyboard/not enough space NetBook like Dell, HP, Acer, et. al. Apple needs to do what Apple does best; Think Different.  The Apple NetBook should follow a totally different form. It should be a supersized iPod Touch. All of the features of the iPT but a 3-4X larger screen. This would give you enough space to really see things. Games would be great. The touch screen keyboard would be large enough to be useful, but give it the ability to plug in an external USB keyboard and mouse if you want. The device could be tough as nails; no fragile plastic hinge with wires going through the center. 40Gb is enough space to store what you need. As you mentioned the apps could be cloud based to save even more space. Some have called this the iPad, I coined the term Apple Einstein. If it had built in speech (voice command and text to speech) you could call it the Apple Hawking. This would be a solid entry into the NetBook world but I don?t think it would siphon off MacBook sales.

Bundle that all together for $599 and I would be one of the first in line.

jameskatt

The usual definition of a “netbook” is simply a cheap laptop which is smaller with fewer hardware features.

Why should Apple do this?

Apple already has a netbook.  It is called the Macbook Air.

If the primary objection to this is price, then your answer is that Apple doesn’t do cheap.

Apple is under a mandate to have 30 to 50% profit for each platform.  Apple doesn’t do things at a loss.  Thus a cheap netbook which has hardly any profit is simply and totally out of the question.

What Apple can do is to create a larger version of the iPhone.  It can have a 9-inch screen.  It can be called the “iBook”.

It can be sold for a Apple’s usual profit at $600.

I would buy one as soon as it comes out.

That is Apple’s answer to the “netbook”.  The iBook.

Neil Anderson

If it has a lower price, it might be good for education.

Ashley Grayson

I’ve posted my own analysis of the likelihood of both an iPhone nano (likely) an Apple “netbook” (unlikely) at http://www.yourmaccoach.com/yourmaccoach/Blog/Blog.html

Simply put: Netbooks, as a category, are a set of compromises to deliver a small, cheap device that can function but not very well. Every netbook reduces the user experience compared to a laptop. Apple never delivers less of all things unless it can deliver some overwhelming upside. Sure netbooks have bigger screens and keyboards than the iPhone, but they aren’t iPhones first. Apple may do a small device, but it will have some use that transcends any physical limits.

khurt

@macdiehard: If screen size is not the issue and given the limited utility of a netbook, doesn’t the current iPhone/iPod Touch meet the requirements?

@jameskatt: I agree with you.

Vern Seward

Hi All,

Don’t think of netbooks as those dinky ASUS toys with 8” screens and cramped keyboards, take a hard look at the HP Mini. I have one of these and work on it is not only doable, it is enjoyable.

True, to get stuff done you have to make some small allowances because the size of the screen does not let you do some things, and I will readily agree that netbooks, regardless of size, are not for everyone.

Still, once you’ve played with the HP Mini you’ll begin to see that it is possible to do stuff on a netbook. Tie one to MobileMe and BAM!

In fact, I wrote my last 3 article (one not pubbed yet) on the HP Mini and Google Docs. Because I have it with me and because it’s easy to get into I can be productive in ways and in places I just couldn’t before.

I just wish I could tether it to my iPhone when WiFi isn’t available.

One last point, Apple could indeed make at least a 30% profit selling netbooks. If HP can sell it’s Mini for $400 and make maybe 10% I’m sure Apple can sell a similar product for $500 to $600 and make 30%.

Vern

Alphaman

Award said: “just what is the difference between a MB Air and a netbook?”

I couldn’t agree more with your questioning, and have been pondering this with all the recent talk of possible Apple netbooks or steroid-laced 9” iPod Touches.

Apple is so good at convincing people that “less is more”.  I’m afraid they backed themselves into a corner on this one.

The Air uses a low speed processor, has soldered in RAM, no optical drive, has only one USB port, a low-end 4200RPM HD, no ethernet, non-removable battery, uses the same display as the low-end MB, and has only a mono speaker.

With all these cost-cutting features (remember, a low-end MB /without/ these reductions costs $999), it should be priced at $600.  Not $1800.

If they’ve already built a (slightly large) netbook, but are charging a premium price for it, I’m afraid we’ll only get a bloated iPod Touch for the real low-end.  I *really* don’t want a tablet without OS X that is limited to iFart apps.

I, for one, don’t like this tack.

JC in Ottawa

I do not see Apple cannibalizing a very successful Macbook products with a sloppy Netbook.

What Apple should do is an Netbook-based on a dual ARM processor for longer battery life running OS-X (current Netbook bane). A full suite of connectivity, including 3G, GPS, Wifi, BT +iSight; with a Touch screen (think Ipod touch on steroids).

Steve

I’m typing this on an Acer Aspire One while I wait for my MacBook to come back from Apple.  Nice build and 160GB/1GB/XP for $350.  Although I do not really like XP, it works.  The screen is big enough for me (characters are about the size of what I zoom to on my Touch) although the keys are small and I even have fairly small hands.

I love my MacBook (even with latest HD crash), but after traveling with it and now the Aspire, the portability is just so much better.  It fits into practically any bag, and I find it more likely to take with me than my larger MacBook.

I understand the risk is that Apple may lose MacBook sales if they offered a Netbook, but since they are already out there (ASUS, Acer, HP to name a few), they may lose potential sales if they don’t.

datako

I loved my 12” iBook, light and very useful.

To my mind this is the minimum size useful work can be done, and it would have been a perfect netbook.

I would buy another 12” the moment it came on the market.

macdiehard

In answer to islandinthenet and others:

I think much of the difference of opinion is due to differences in assumed use and need.

islandinthenet, you asked me: “If screen size is not the issue and given the limited utility of a netbook, doesn?t the current iPhone/iPod Touch meet the requirements?”

If you want to access the web, listen to music, and do not have a need to run Mac aps, then the iPhone/iPod Touch is great, but if you want to do more, these are not adequate. And far from being of limited utility in fact a netbook is as functional as I need it to be.

My need is for a very mobile notebook that will run Mac aps such as a word processor, spreadsheet, OminOutliner/NoteBook, and such. Netbooks do run these aps (except for the Mac outlining aps and an Apple netbook would run these); the iPhone and iPod Touch do not.

Tiger, for anyone serious about work and/or computing, these netbooks are not meant to replace a desktop or a 17” MBP. But with a $500 netbook, one can afford an iMac plus an extremely mobile and reasonably functional netbook for less than the cost of a 15” MBP, with more mobility when out and much more power and screen real estate when at a desk. If you need a bigger screen and more power in a mobile package, then you have to get a MBP, but most people do not. Most people, when on the road or at their local coffeeshop, do not need more than the basic aps, which a netbook runs well enough. (See the postings above.)

Others say Apple cannot afford to cannibalize the MacBook. I think Apple has a choice of letting Asus, HP, and others cannibalize the MacBook (while maybe selling more iMacs) or cannibalizing the MacBook themselves AND bringing in more PC owners.

I would rather have an Apple netbook and an iMac but if Apple does not come up with one, I will buy a PC netbook with my primary computer an iMac. That suits my needs the best. Your needs may be different.

Vern Seward

As Macdiehard has noted, “serious work”, that is photo editing a la Photoshop, movie editing, heavy duty drawing or presentation making, and so on is not an area where netbooks shine. However for real mobility for text editing, simple photo editing, email, web surfing and that sort of thing netbooks are right on target.

I’m sitting in an airport right now (flight to SF cancelled. Loooong story)and typing this on my HP Mini. There’s a guy next to me with a huge Dell and another doing email on a Blackberry. My iPhone is plugged into the USB port and is charging while I listen to jams and wait for phone calls. I just got a email from Byran Chaffin.

I’ve written several articles on it already and when (if) I make it to SF I’ll use it to upload photos and keep track of announcements.

The point is, when I need to I can slap this thing shut, shove it in my satchel and dash madly for whatever gate they tell me. It’s easy to handle, easy to use, and work great for what I use it for, which is real work.

Again, a netbook isn’t for everyone, just for anyone needing one.

Vern

cityguide

I think there is room for Apple to do something it hasn’t done in a long time, since the Gil Amelio days: offer two similar products in the same space. I think a netbook could live in the same price point as a MacBook thus preserving Apple’s DNA. I say this because I picked up a Vista netbook in Japan that was so priced and is as full-featured as any full-size laptop with a card reader, DVD-RW drive, two USB ports, wifi, bluetooth, built-in webcam, and ethernet. With its pivoting touchscreen and handwriting recognition, it can function as a tablet. Apple could build this machine. Yes it might cannibilize MacBook sales but the revenue goes into the same cash box, and it answers the call for a smaller form factor. The size was what compelled me to purchase it - it’s incredibly easy to pack and carry. I just wish it were from Apple.

geoduck

FWIW Apple DID a NetBook years ago. The form factor of the eMate 300 was what we’d call a NetBook today. Small, light, great battery life, limited but just what you need.

Andrew

Actually, the Air is in every way a premium device aimed at professionals and others who value style, quality and even luxury more than price.  The Air was never meant for the budget conscious, so comparing it with $400 netbooks is just silly, like saying a Mercedes C class is a compact car, and so it is just like a Toyota Corolla for $20,000 more.

Apple could and maybe should do a smaller form-factor machine than the Air, and probably could and should price it lower.  A plastic machine without the SSD, without the high-end screen (the Air does NOT use the same display as the regular MacBook) and without the unibody enclosure or nVidia graphics would be cheaper than the Air.  Drop the Core2Duo and use a Celeron M Atom or what-not and the price can drop even more.

Some of the EEE PCs use a 900MHz Celeron and that chip is MUCH faster than the Intel Atom.  I have a 1-year-old ThinkPad R61e with a 1.83GHz Celeron M and the same Intel X3100 integrated video as the old MacBook.  That computer happily runs Windows Vista 64 Bit with Aero turned on, is fast, stable and entirely pleasant to use with its 2GB of RAM.  No, it won’t compete in performance with my 2.4GHz MacBook Pro which also runs 64 Bit Vista in Boot Camp, but it isn’t slow.

Such a Celeron-powered budget machine running OS X (an entirely more efficient OS than Vista 64) would be fast and pleasant, faster in fact than the original Core Solo Mac Mini, which itself is more than fast enough for NetBook-type use.

Would I buy one?  Nope.  I have a perfectly useful 1.0 GHz PowerBook G4 12” that is MY NetBook.  That 1.0GHz G4 is slower even than the Atom processors out today, and it runs Leopard and Office 2008 just fine, thank you, and with its new battery I can use it for almost 5 hours, and its 12” screen is still ideal in a travel setting.

geoduck

I agree, something like the snow iBook would be great, witness the price they are still fetching on the used market. I would disagree with one bit though

runs Windows Vista 64 Bit with Aero turned on, is fast, stable and entirely pleasant to use

pleasant? :LOL)

Tim Holt

I have blogged about this and the sad state of Apple and education:

http://snipurl.com/cl9x0

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