Rebuttal: Apple is Already Selling a Netbook

| Editorial

Our esteemed Bryan Chaffin, TMO's Executive Vice President, and I have been in agreement for a long time that Apple would eventually release a product we like to call an "iPod super touch." (iPST) However lately, I have surmised that Apple will also do a netbook Apple's way and that the iPST will come later. Here's my rebuttal to this morning's "Back Page" by Mr. Chaffin.

The logic I used to forecast an Apple netbook, MacNetBook, is that it's a growing market that Apple can't afford to ignore. It is illogical to argue that if Asus, Acer and MSI can make some money on a US$250 netbook that Apple cannot make money on a $699, 10-inch MacNetBook.

I'll go even further and claim that Apple is already selling a MacNetBook, on a trial basis, to gauge the customer response, and that's the white polycarbonate MacBook that Ted Landau explained yesterday. This Mac is primarily of interest to education, keeps the price below the magic $1,000 point, and provides a technical platform for Apple to diverge into the Netbook. It's a place holder, essentially, until the aluminum MacNetBook launches with a 10-inch screen and no optical drive.

 

White MacBook

Apple's Prototype MacNetBook Platform?

How would Apple reduce the price without killing the profitability? We already know the answer there as well. Apple showed, with the MacBook Air, that if it creates a really cool, focused product, and gives people alternative solutions to some missing technoloogies -- such as the remote use of a SuperDrive -- then people will gobble the product up. What could be cooler than a 780 gram aluminum MacNetBook with a 10 inch screen, good keyboard and nothing but Wi-Fi and a 128 GB SSD? No iSight. No Ethernet. No FireWire. No optical drive. Just a beautiful keyboard and glossy display. It would hardly compete with the MacBook Air with its larger 13-inch screen and the 13-inch MacBook with its built-in optical drive and lots of ports.

The reason I think the iPST will come later is because there is not a known, established and large market for such a device. Right now, it doesn't fit into the staging strategy of most users. Sure, we all want one. But we're in the minority. It has to appeal to millions before Apple gets interested.

When I pondered its development, calling it the iPad, I presumed that there would have to be a special sauce, something unexpected come along, to make the iPST compelling. A mass cultural imperative. However, when people are cutting back in a recession, even those who are in a good financial position (for the time being anyway), will resist superfluous toys unless the case is a slam dunk.

For example, What if Twitter were to grow, morph, and emerge as something we haven't imagined yet? What if Twitter, with expanded capabilities were to emerge as a major national obsession (it is already!) at the same time as the newspapers in this country, with Google's help, get it all figured out. The portable iPST would suddenly become the "must have" device for video news, newspapers, books, and Twitter 2.0.

I bring that up to get our juices and imagination flowing, not because it's a hard and fast prediction. But history has shown that when a company like Apple is tuned into the emerging technology consciousness, it can spring forth with a compelling product while other competitors were asleep, holding the fort in the recession. I believe, along with Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, that the iPST have to wait until 2010 when emergence from the recession (hopefully earlier!) brings a new sense of technological excitement and experimentation -- all driven by an unexpected emergence of a new, killer app for it - perhaps Google's Wave.

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10 Comments Leave Your Own

MCal

No offense but LOL!!!!!!  While I agree that the white may well be a placeholder for a future product, it’s way too heavy and clunky and most importantly expensive in the current climate to be a netbook threat. An no isight?? That would just be suicide for the product.
Unless things are very different in the USA the Air has done anything but set the market alight, on the contrary it’s almost a joke with it’s overly less is more feature set. They’re an extremely rare sight on my macentric travels.

  I believe/hope Apple will make the Air 15” in the future (plz add another USB while ur there) and add something much more akin to the netbook (with an isight for heavens sake) ad a 10” screen.

Al.

CJR

Arguably Apple invented the netbook. Microlaptop, inexpensive, primarily netconnection, no disc drive, touchscreen. That describes the eMate perfectly. Sadly it went the way of their PDA invention, the Newton.

John Martellaro

Ah, the eMate.  Memories.

- JM

rezonate

I talked about the eMate this morning in the Forums. I remember seeing one in New York in the late 90s, on display at B&H. Very cool device.

jeffharris

No iSight? Surely, you jest.

With the unibody MacBook packing so much punch compared to the MacBook Air, I don’t really see why the MBA’s price remains so high. The two use similar manufacturing methods, so why keep the price premium for the Air? The MBA was a sort of prototype for the unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro, after all.

If Apple dropped the price of the MBA to $999, it would be more in line with MB unibody and more realistic, comparatively.

To take it a step further, they could drop the price of the white MacBook to $899, for a shade more differentiation. THAT would be about all Apple would need to do, at least until they release whatever all the rumor mongers have been talking about.

tbag

As someone who has to deploy possibly hundreds of netbooks, I require the ethernet port for imaging machines.  I also used target disk mode with Firewire for one-off imaging but the new aluminum Macbook took that convenient feature away.  I now have to pull the drive, attach it to a USB/SATA adapter, and image.

Reducing some features to reduce price could be dangerous in deploying large numbers.

If you look at it from a school’s perspective, if you had to deploy 1,000 Macbooks, then clean them up each summer by re-imaging, the only practical way to do it is through the network.  Running large updates, like 10.5.7, on multiple Macbooks was painful enough through wireless.

That all being said, the iPhone OS seems pretty small and the guts of the OS are so well protected from the normal user, the need to do such drastic cleanup may not be as necessary in the future.  I want an Apple product with 10” screen, running the iPhone OS, so that typical users are shielded from the inner workings of the machine.

jeffharris

tbag…

Absolutely. Removing 2 basic ports, FireWire and Ethernet, effectively cripples the MacBook Air. No FireWire in the Macbook, the same.

My girlfriend wants a new Mac and I won’t let her get a unibody MacBook or and Air because of lack of FireWire. i’ve set up a macBook Air and it’s time consuming and painful getting software loaded and troubleshooting.

No FireWire Target Disk Mode is a deal killer!

azarkon

“Free” phones from carriers have built in cameras, sticking a webcam in the netbook would not be a price-breaker.  But the 13in Macbook isn’t a netbook.  I suspect part of the Air being so expensive is that it was saddled with high R&D costs (the reduced CPU die, the new battery tech, the first unibody construction) and the pricing is reasonable for a product whose only competitive edge is its thinness.  If Apple priced the Air around 1000, I doubt they’d sell many more of them because in so many ways the macbook compares favorably—the Air targets people for which thin is the only relevant factor Dell came out with a similar super-slim and light laptop (the “adamo”) which sells for a similar price to the Air.

But the Air does show that apple can create and sell a mac that has less that the cutting edge of speed but still have all the acoutrements of a mac.  The Air’s processor would be a great candidate for an apple netbook—noticeably more powerful than competitors netbooks, but not so strong as to muddle the macbook line or cannibalize their sales.

Marcus

Why would no firewire or ethernet be a deal breaker? Unless you’re in a corporate environment or have a bunch of firewire devices I doubt you’d care. I work from home and have never used either my firewire or ethernet port (17” MBP). and jeff, women don’t generally like large laptops, both my gf and her sister went nuts on seeing the air at the apple store, just use superduper, cc or time machine to transfer file and settings over, let the poor woman get what she wants, I doubt that she cares it doesn’t have firewire or ethernet.

tbag

I think lack of ethernet is more of a deal breaker than lack of firewire, although target disk mode is a fantastic feature. 

Apple really is pushing one-to-one laptop initiatives in schools and without an ethernet connection to push a 10GB system image to a new laptop the product will not be acceptable. 

I agree for the average consumer user, some of these features are pretty unnecessary.  But as we all know, Apple tries to limit their product line.

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