The Big Apple Letdown: No Mac Netbook is a Good Thing

picture-1One word has been used by journalists to describe Apple’s last Macworld: dull.   Blogs such as Unpluggd featured polls for readers to chime in on what new products they expected from Apple.   An Apple netbook, a redesigned iPhone and an Apple Tablet appeared to lead the buzz.   The hype was huge, but the reality of no Steve Jobs and no significant new devices quickly snuffed high expectations.

Many sites featured articles outlining their hopes for new Apple products.   Dan Gillmor’s article at All Things D, outlined his case for the success of an Apple netbook, a low cost, subnotebook computer.   Gillmor believed his vision of an Apple netbook, a NewtBook, would be successful because of Apple’s easy to use OS X, touch-friendly interface, and implementation of an App Store similar to that on the iPhone/iTouch.   He believed that an Apple netbook would appeal to current iPhone/iTouch users that wanted a similar but more productive device.

While I agree that an Apple netbook would appeal to the current Mac fanbase and current iPhone owners, the introduction of a low cost Mac netbook would harm the current, developing market.   Here are four reasons why no Apple netbook is a good thing.

Price: Apple’s products are designed very well, and consumers usually pay a little extra for that better design.   When talk of netbooks began, the goal was to produce a low cost, subnotebook that would cost around $200 USD or less.   An Apple netbook would inflate current costs and introduce high end netbooks similar to what we’re seeing with the Sony Viao P (called a netbook by some).   The main determinant in calling a device a netbook will soon no longer be the screen size, keyboard layout, or operating system. It will be the item’s cost.   I have a difficult time calling a device that costs more than $500 a netbook.

Community Interest: Just who is the target audience of the netbook market?   School aged children, first time computer and Internet users, and folks needing a mobile companion?   All of these individuals fall into the netbooks audience, but the driving force behind the netbook success are tech geeks like myself that want a fun, cheap, mobile device that won’t break the bank.   Netbooks don’t cost an arm and a leg to replace if they’re dropped, stolen, or bricked from experimenting with various operating systems.   Let’s be honest.   Whether it’s appropriate or not, the OSx86 project, MSIWind OSX86 and similar customized distrobutions of OS X for netbooks has sold more machines than Apple would like to admit.   It would be difficult for Apple to step into the netbook scene with an official Mac netbook when the MSI Wind is compatible with OS X out of the box and would cost a lot less.   Of course you’ll need to have above average computer knowledge or the ability to search Google and read what you find to make a Hackintosh.   The lack of an Apple netbook keeps the enthusiasts focused on current netbook models, rather than stealing them away to jailbreak an official Mac netbook.

Apple Control: If you’ve owned an iPhone or iPod Touch, you know what a hassle it can be to install a non-Apple approved application.   Apple’s App Store is the only officially supported way to install 3rd party software.   If an Apple netbook were introduced, it is highly likely that it would be bundled with an App Store similar to the iPhone/iTouch.   This strict, monopoloy control allows Apple to determine what applications are available for users to install.   This would stifle enthusiasts and only appeal to the novice.

img-1637-thumb.jpgCurrent Netbooks Hit the Mark: There is room for improvement with current netbooks, but the models presented from Asus and HP are hitting the mark.   A functional keyboard, usable screen, and low cost are the netbook keystones.   As Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun points out, the Asus Eee PC 1000HA currently delivers the best bang for the buck.   With a 6 cell battery, the HP 1000 series and MSI Wind are equal or better competitors to the Asus Eee PC.   If high end features are needed, users will abandon netbooks for higher priced notebooks.   The Asus netbooks that have debuted at CES 2009 and feature Tablet functionality smash the netbook baseball out of the park.   Expect similar implementations as Windows 7 and multitouch continue to generate interest and grow in popularity.

What are your thoughts on the lack of an Apple netbook?

Check out GBM’s exclusive CES 2009 coverage to learn more about the hottest new products.

15 Comments

  1. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 6:20 am

    They’ll do it eventually, all it would take is a simplified, solid state hybrid macbook/iphone, which is certainly where they are heading. But like every other company, they don’t want to push the envelope and rock the boat when they can sit back and make good profits off their current approach.

    Aside from not wanting to gut higher end sales, I think support is their biggest issue with a low cost computer; they don’t want to gain a bad reputation through lack of ability to provide proper support with low profit margins. So I see mobile me becoming more important to build a self supporting community for first level support. But building these communities with their gated mindset is not their strength.

    Ultimately, if “the economy” doesn’t go completely off the rails, computers are likely to be a worldwide commodity with billions of consumers, and they’ll want to get in on that.

    Myself, I am hoping for Android breakthroughs. It is more democratic – all the manufacturers can participate directly, for more competitive but compatible offerings, and it is open source, one of the most amazing concepts that has manifested with the Internet. Besides, I get so tired of seeing that glowing Apple everywhere, I like to think different. ;)

    Reply

  2. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 6:32 am

    I also wanted to say that we can refer to history; Apple II was the predominant platform before the IBM PC in the early 80s, and there were many clones, but Apple wanted to keep it proprietary and sued or befuddled them mercilessly and kept their own cost high. When the more open IBM PC / MS-DOS combination came out, with its industry standard part and OEM software (aside from the original BIOS) the market exploded. I can see the same thing happening with Android. Microsoft could also step up, but after the Vista fiasco, in particular their multiple product lines (including XP on netbooks, and the multiple incompatible versions of mobile Windows), it’s time for the operating system and arbitrary product divisions to stop blocking easy adoption and progress.

    I do hope that we will see the end of arbitrary product divisions, when manufacturers have control they will create incompatibilities, arbitrarily withhold features or inexpensive but important quality factors to sell multiple product lines, satisfying no one. This practise could be addressed with fierce, open competition.

    Reply

  3. GoodThings2Life

    01/08/2009 at 6:35 am

    Very good analysis, and I agree completely. I’m not surprised by the lack of a netbook either or revised iPhone, but the lack of the rumored large-screen iPod Touch was a little surprising. I admit I also laughed at the 17″ Macbook.

    Reply

  4. IMA MAC'PCER

    01/08/2009 at 6:59 am

    What caused the PC explosion is what has also spawned the surge in Apple products. PC’s came from everywhere and everybody. Quality was variable and compatibility was atrocious. Apple has always offered a quality, easy to use, compatible product which is a relief when you are trying to get some work done.

    Reply

  5. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 7:52 am

    IMA MAC’PCER, I agree, Microsoft never really got a handle on providing consistency, which is why I’d like to see them replaced as the mainstream leader. And the whole deal of forcing vendors to endorse them is quite creepy, as well as their anti competitive practices (most recently, OOXML vs ODF). Viruses and a maintenance are still a problem on Windows, and providing a cast-off version or charging as much for the OS as the hardware doesn’t make sense. Which is why I’m hoping Android (or some other open source OS) will cure these problems. Microsoft can retain a niche for “Windows enthusiasts,” with twelve different versions of their OS to dilute and confuse the market and make some people feel special or “elite” for having a moving desktop.

    I think for most uses “a computer is a computer” and there’s not much justification for paying two or three times as much for a Mac for most people, which the netbooks clearly address (though I think they’re often badly designed, with uncomfortable keyboards and poor battery life). The OS supports commodity features, and manufacturers are getting better at designing hardware, though I can’t deny Apple still provides a higher level of quality and integration it just doesn’t matter for most people.

    Reply

  6. Sumocat

    01/08/2009 at 8:36 am

    Regarding the dullness of Macworld, with all the noise about Steve Jobs’ health and the Apple PR spin that this would be their last MW keynote, it seems no one has considered the possibility Jobs simply wanted to skip “dullnote” but didn’t want everyone else to know it was going to be vapid. Given their history of using controversy as cover, it would not surprise me if this was the case.

    As for an Apple netbook, Apple makes primary devices (Mac family) and companion devices (iPod family). With which family would a netbook live? That’s the key question. If it’s a primary device, it would just be a small Macbook, so no big deal. If a companion device, then we have something different. That possibility intrigues me, but I wouldn’t hold my breath over it.

    Reply

  7. James Katt

    01/08/2009 at 8:50 am

    Cost is a stupid criterion in determining what a netbook is.

    I have a tiny Sony laptop that costs $2400. It should also be called a netbook since it is as small as the existing netbooks. Yet is has fuller capabilities.

    If cost is taken out of the equation, then Apple already has a netbook. It is the Macbook Air. Thank you.

    Reply

  8. James Katt

    01/08/2009 at 8:52 am

    Since the iPhone itself would cost $650 at least, to purchase without an ATT subsidy, then Apple cannot create a low cost “netbook” if cost is the primary criterion.

    As such, Apple’s MacBook is the obvious low cost netbook.

    Reply

  9. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 9:21 am

    James Katt, what you have is a subnotebook. The netbook category was created by the Asus Eee and low cost should be considered part of the definition. However, I wouldn’t expect every product to fit perfectly into a category.

    Reply

  10. stefn

    01/08/2009 at 9:45 am

    Agreed: netbooks are a bad idea. But a larger yet pocketable iPod Touch can be the next big thing. A mobile mac that we keep with us anywhere, anytime. Just like a wallet.

    Also, no one will have to buy more than one puter. The â€ŔMacTROU” (for The Rest of Us) can be untethered, like the Kindle, using EVDO. And a hundred times better than the Kindle, this gizmo can connect to ALL our files on MobileMe.

    Apple can charge whatever it needs to for the MacTROU, for the connectivity, and for a subscription to MobileMe. And it can collect for purchases of software, books, audio, video, whatever, which can then reside on MobileMe, always available to the MacTROU user.

    Imagine what this anywhere, anytime Mac can feature as services! And all of these revenue flows can go directly to Apple. ATT need not apply.

    It’s all about selling solutions, not simply gizmos. If Apple plays its cards right, it can replace the wallet as well as the credit cards in it.

    Reply

  11. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 10:17 am

    stefn, “Imagine what this anywhere, anytime Mac can feature as services!” – exactly what Apple wants it to, and nothing else. Apple wants to own media and computing devices. I hope for a more open, competitive future, it would be hell to return to a closed proprietary type world, where the openness and versatility of the internet would certainly disappear.

    Reply

  12. marcus reed

    01/08/2009 at 10:41 am

    seriously, the yet to be released killer device is an iphone that’s 8.5″ wide x 5.5″ tall. That’s roughly the size of a paperback book.

    put two of them together for a nintendo DS on steroids…..

    make the unit dockable to a larger display with keyboard….

    give it bluetooth….

    solid state memory….

    ~10 hour battery life….

    applications are limitless

    read pdfs, listen to music, watch movies, nurses charting, doctors reviewing xrays, fedex guys delivering packages, play games, send email, surf the web, write letters, do spreadsheets, give presentations, video conference/chat, students taking notes (then tossing it in their backpacks-without breaking their backs)..

    $799 they would fly off the shelves faster than Wii Fits at WalMart….

    Seriously…. Hurry up Apple….

    Reply

  13. GoX

    01/08/2009 at 10:56 am

    Apple must do something like this (see first picture):

    Next Apple moves will be Books and Games…
    http://spidouz.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/next-apple-moves-will-be-books-and-games

    THAT WILL BE A NEW BEST-SELLER!!!

    Reply

  14. spacecowboy

    01/08/2009 at 12:12 pm

    I’m not surprised that Apple doesn’t listen to a bunch of critics to tell them how they should run their business? I don’t know what makes everyone think that they know more about Apple’s business than Apple.
    Remember? Apple needs to put that floppy drive back in their computers. Apple needs to bring out a laptop that is under $1,000. Apple needs to come out with a 14″ inexpensive alternative to that 9″ black and white screen. Apple has to bring the price of their computers down. The Apple Computer is a toy it will never be taken seriously look it has a mouse and it can talk, now how cute is that?

    Reply

  15. davidm

    01/08/2009 at 1:32 pm

    I find it depressing that people would only expect Apple to come out with a particular design. They tend to hold back and compromise features, they’re very strategic in a way that is not particularly consumer friendly. Though unfortunately they are the company that generally has the best thought out designs. The only company that I can think of that is like Apple is Nintendo with their Wii system (seriously). And I would expect them to be competitors in the future for computing devices.

    Reply

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