Apple Should Forget Netbook Hardware and Focus on Netbook OS

applenetbookmockupIn reading the crazily careening coverage of the reports that Apple is going to be working up a Netbook later this year, I stumbled across this post from The AppleBlog. Darell Etherington says that the Netbook OS is going to become the new battleground for fun and profit in the future. I tend to agree. So much so that I think Apple should just forget the hardware, follow the Hackintosh trend, and deliver an OS that could be installed on any Netbook. Here’s why.

  • We’ve seen OSX already work on available Netbooks thanks to some hacking. It doesn’t look like it would require a massive investment for Apple to push things this way.
  • Apple has already called Netbooks a “piece of junk” and said they can’t make something that cheap and stay within their design and aesthetic milieu. That’s all well and good. Forget trying to make the hardware conform and just create a slick and pretty OS.
  • Microsoft’s strategy makes it ripe for the picking. Tons of Netbooks are floating around with Windows XP on them right now (and yeah some with a Linux flavor or two as well.) But as of now there is no upgrade path for Windows 7 from Windows XP. I’m sure the bean counters and marketing mavens are thinking that Netbook prices are so low, that foks will just buy a new one when Windows 7 comes out   They may be right. Microsoft is sticking with its multiple SKU madness for Windows 7 and aiming Windows Starter at Netbooks to try and up sell customers along the way. If a customer has to buy a box (or a download) to install a new OS and there is competition, I would imagine quite a few folks would look Apple’s way, especially if Apple is able to keep to its one size fits all model.
  • Then there’s Google and the Android OS. There’s word today that we might see   a Netbook in two months or so with an Android OS on it. I’d love to see that happen sooner rather than later. But, I’m guessing (note I said guessing) that a Netbook Google OS will still take awhile to take hold of any significant mind and market share.

If Apple struck now (or this year, rather) it could quickly take over a lion’s share of the market for Netbooks and, in my opinion, own the game. That could happen without a dollar spent on figuring out how to make “cheap hardware” look good.

Granted this change’s “we control it all” modus operandi, but I think the circumstances with Netbooks might just create the right opportunity for such a large shift.

12 Comments

  1. Xavier

    03/10/2009 at 11:37 am

    Good idea Warner, but I doubt Apple will ever let OSX run on cheap computers of any kind again. I attended MacWorld back during the Mac clone days (1996 and 1997 I think) and remember the crowd’s excitement. I even bought a Power Computing desktop for college. Then it all came crashing down.

    I think a Mac OS netbook would be incredibly successful from a marketshare point of view, but Apple wants to maintain its aspirational status.

    Reply

  2. Warner Crocker

    03/10/2009 at 11:40 am

    Ah, those aspirations. They always get in the way.;)

    Reply

  3. apatil

    03/10/2009 at 11:54 am

    Good thought but I think Microsoft beat Apple again with upcoming release of Windows 7 which works great on my Dell mini.

    Reply

  4. Gavin Miller

    03/10/2009 at 12:03 pm

    Apple is all about the hardware. It’s how they make money, the OS is just a means to an end.

    Reply

  5. Sumocat

    03/10/2009 at 12:37 pm

    What’s up with the “Apple should stop being Apple” sentiment today? Granted, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the strategy, but it’s just not an Apple-like thing to do. That said, and I touched on this at jkOnTheRun, I think the release of an Apple netbook/tablet/whatever will coincide with the release of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which is supposed to be leaner and more efficient. If the current rumors pan out, I suspect the OS will be its major draw, same as with the iPhone. In that case, holding on to their OS would be a better for them in the long run.

    Reply

  6. Nicholas

    03/10/2009 at 2:25 pm

    I dont believe that Apple will ever do this, they are a hardware company not software, so unless Apple make a ‘piece of junk’ netbook themselves, we wont be seeing a legitimate version of OSX on a netbook.

    Reply

  7. Warner Crocker

    03/10/2009 at 7:00 pm

    Apple does know a thing or two about making businesses out of software. I can think of iTunes and the App Store. Of course both run on Apple specific hardware.

    Reply

  8. GoodThings2Life

    03/10/2009 at 8:20 pm

    I actually think this is a bad idea for Apple, because it would mean a) having to put their money where their mouth is and prove that it really can be as “plug and play” as it has always been claimed which leads me to b) they’d have to relinquish control to OEM’s, and we’d end up seeing Mac OSX turned into the same junkware ridden mess that we see in Windows installs.

    The only way to avoid it is to either sign exclusive deals with OEM’s to prevent that or exclusively sell Mac OSX through retail channels and leave it to customer’s own methods to make it happen… and that opens a whole can of support headaches they’d almost certainly not enjoy.

    Reply

  9. oliver

    03/10/2009 at 10:34 pm

    supporting macos on a broad array of hardware vs carefully selected hardware components is quite a shift for apple, I’d think.

    Reply

  10. sfwrtr

    03/11/2009 at 12:26 pm

    Apple computers always work when you plug them in.
    From the first Mac, onward, the niche has been “computing appliance.” Even the iPhone fits this niche. Can’t say that for Windows machines or others. It’s all about controlling the hardware to assure a reliably good experience for the user.

    To make a OS-X for any hardware would require Apple to test and certify (1) each revision of the netbook (2) to test and certify each device that is plugged into each netbook. Case 1 is difficult and unlikely enough as it is. Combinations of case 1 and 2 grow dramatically, even if, for example, Apple were to support just ASUS and DELL.

    Last, any reports of OS-X not working properly on 3rd party hardware, or of “certified” devices not working, and the Apple brand is tarnished. That would reflect back on the Mac line and the iPod line, hurting the bottom line – and Apple knows it.

    Sure, the margin in selling a gazillion copies of the OS is excellent, but is it worth the risk?

    Reply

  11. Jjytv

    03/12/2009 at 8:12 am

    Complexity in software not only increases testing costs, but increases friction on future product development. I’d rather see additional complexity go into frequent releases with new features that work well rather than into support for cheap hardware. OS X works well in it’s niche. Take it out of its niche and after a few generations it could become as unwieldy as Windows as configuration-intensive as Linux.

    Reply

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