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.