Is There a Place for a Netbook in the Apple Lineup?

by Chris Howard Jul 20, 2009

Would you rather a netbook or an iPhone? What if I complicated the question and said the netbook was from Apple?

I'm yet to meet anyone who's pining for a netbook. I know a few people who wouldn't mind one, but not pining. However, I meet people often who want - really want - an iPhone.

As long time Apple Matters reader Beeblebrox is won't to point out, the end price you pay is off putting for many folks. Of course, this is the problem with all smartphones, they are all stupidly expensive. When you start looking at the shelf price of other smartphones, the iPhone (an ultrasmartphone mind you), suddenly looks quite reasonably priced.

And an Apple netbook is not going to be cheaper than the off the shelf price of an iPhone. Can Apple therefore make a netbook that has enough appeal?

To do so it might have to be something really special. But would an Apple netbook really turn the netbook market on its head?

Let's assume Apple makes a netbook that is next generation. Can it make a device that is revolutionary? What could Apple do to the netbook that hasn't already been mooted? Everyone expects it will be a tablet device, but there's nothing revolutionary about that. It could also run iPhone and Mac apps, but again, there's nothing revolutionary (per se) about that. It could include a GPS, a compass, an accelerometer, wireless broadband and whatever else, but there's nothing revolutionary about that.

So it's hard to imagine an Apple netbook being revolutionary or being a device to turn the netbook market on its head. It's unlikely PC netbook makers have anything to fear from an Apple netbook. It would sell well, but to  Apple fans and folks who want the "cool" factor.

An Apple netbook would be just like the Apple Mac is to PCs. It would be a trendsetter, but not a ground shaker.

So where's that leave the iPhone vs the netbook? Same place it is now. Each has its own use. Those uses do overlap a little but (provided the netbook doesn't try to oversell its capabilities and tarnish its reputation), there will be markets for both.

Apple also has to consider the iPod touch, which is the "poor man's iPhone", that is, for those who have no need for the phone component because of not needing a phone at all, being tied to a contract, or already having a phone they are happy with. And many an iPod touch owner says it's all the netbook they ever will need. But what if there was an Apple netbook? Where would that leave the iPod touch?

Not a question really because the price difference would be quite significant. In fact, an Apple netbook if it's touch screen, could easily be as expensive as the MacBook, or more. This is Apple after all.

The interesting question to answer is why would Apple make a netbook? The MacBook Pro 13" is flying off the shelves, such that Apple has supposedly had trouble keeping up with demand, and a couple of people have bought iPhones too. Who, or more importantly, how many really people need an Apple netbook? How big is the market for an Apple netbook? Does Apple even have enough market potential to justify the cost of bringing out a netbook?

If Apple had a netbook in the form of "iPod touch meets MacBook at 9 inches", but you had to choose between it and an iPhone, which would you choose? And why?


  • I’m writing this from my touch, and in doing so i’m reminded of why full-size computers will never go away, because such hand-helds are limited. Wireless browsing is cool, but small screens (including netbook screens) really suck. I think that i might even replace my 13” macbook with at least a 15”. So… netbooks and handhelds - gimmicks, once the initial excitement wears off they become obsolete.

    ediedi had this to say on Jul 20, 2009 Posts: 16
  • Gotta agree on the screen size and typing issue. The problem is exacerbated on the iPhone/iPod touch because you lose so much of the screen to the virtual keyboard. If Apple’s netbook also has a virtual keyboard, the available screen real estate when typing will be a disadvantage compared to its hardware keyboard competitors.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 20, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Likewise, there is a need for a portable smartpads.

    Can you just imagine UPS or FedEx drivers lugging a full-size notebook around the block? Those Symbol smartpads are actually mini PC terminals with a barcode reader. Symbol even made the original Apple Store POS mobile terminals.

    So, to answer your question Chris, yes there is a place for a “netbook” in Apple’s lineup. It will not be a netbook like what Asus, Acer, or Dell is currently peddling - microbooks. Those are not much better than the failed Samsung or OQO Origami-based mini-notebooks.

    Yes, they are selling like hotcakes at the moment but to whom? Those same people are expecting an XP-like experience but only to find out that they are best for web browsing - and that is what they are designed for.

    That is the reason Apple rudely ridiculed this exact form-factor for a mobile microbook. The iPod touch is fine as a pocket Mac but you can only do so much with it - as EdiEdi confesses above.

    So, the expected 8-10” screen form-factor tablet is a perfect fit between the iPhone/Touch and the MacBook. As I have inferred in the past the $699 price point is a nice middle ground to prevent cannibalisation.

    I expect such tablet Mac to offer the full OSX Snow Leopard when it comes out for the Holidays this year.

    Just to be fun of course, Apple will include the same accelerometer chip to make it compatible with iTunes games & applications. GPS and magnetometer may not make it initially.

    This iMate Touch will make a perfect college backpack doohicky to show off to those lonesome tumbleweeds.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 21, 2009 Posts: 846
  • I would like to see a netbook from Apple which is the size of a large paperback and when open has 2 screens one on each half.  These screens would be touch sensitive.  Then Apple puts books on iTunes in a PDF format so you can read them in portrait mode using both screens just like you would a book.

    When not reading a book, one screen will have a virtual keyboard and the other screen is for viewing. 

    Dimensions approx: 9 x 5 x .75 in. (Screen ratio 16:9 for movies)

    While they are at it, how about a phone, camera and iPhone Apps?

    WetcoastBob had this to say on Jul 21, 2009 Posts: 29
  • I don’t think I see a netbook in Apple’s future beyond the hackintoshes that are already out there.  Apple’s version would be too expensive, which means they’d have to add stuff to it to justify the price, which would essentially make it a Macbook.  Might as well buy a Macbook.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 22, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • WesCoastBob, love that idea!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 22, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • “Apple’s version would be too expensive”

    You mean “premium” and not “crap”? Yeah. At $699 for a premium iPod Touch it would be a pleasure to make a dent out of my savings. The thing would hark back as the iMate or Newton Touch - oooh! sweet! wink

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 25, 2009 Posts: 846
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