Apple Expert Calls Netbook Rumors Premature

 
 
By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2009-03-11
 
 
 

Asus' netbook announcements last week are just the latest development driving the netbook market to new heights of recognition and acceptability. Smaller, lighter and cheaper than notebooks, netbooks still offer top-notch programs and features, as well as unbeatable portability. With major players like Dell, HP and Samsung entering the netbook marketplace, is there room for an Apple netbook? According to a report from Reuters, Apple may just be gearing up to find out.

A Reuters article published on March 11 quotes an unnamed source close to Taiwanese touch-screen specialist Wintek, who said Apple is placing orders for 10-inch touch-screens to be delivered in the third quarter of this year. Wintek currently provides the screens for Apple's ubiquitous iPhone. On March 9, speculation about a possible Apple netbook raced across the Internet after a Taiwan-based newspaper reported that two Taiwanese companies had been selected to contribute to the device. Apple officials declined to comment.

Michael Oh, president of Boston-based Apple reseller Tech Superpowers, says all the rumors and speculation need to be absorbed carefully and with more than a little wariness. "My guess is that it's hard to say how accurate these supplier stories are," he says. "Looking at it from the Apple ecosystem, it doesn't make sense to me to release this product right now."

Oh, who also wrote a blog post positing his thoughts on the rumors, says despite the opportunities available to a company releasing a low-cost PC during an economic downturn, Apple has never released a product so reactive to economic and market conditions. "In my opinion, it feels a little too rushed, a little too early," he says. "Maybe they've fast-tracked some prototype product, but they're not the kind of company that rushes a product to market in order to fill a hole in the market."

He says the one time Apple employed that strategy with Cingular Wireless (now AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive carrier) and the ROKR iTunes phone in 2005, the product was an "abysmal failure." Not to mention a highly portable, feature-full netbook would undercut the marketing strategy for Apple's razor-thin Air.

"If Apple released a netbook now, they would completely undermine the MacBook Air," he says. "If they'd come out with a netbook at $500, it would destroy the MacBook Air, and I can't see them destroying a product line like that."

Oh says a netbook-type product is unlikely because Apple is very calculated not only about the design and product, but the ecosystem around a particular product. When and if Apple does unveil a netbook-like device, it will be done in order to redefine the customer perception of what a $500 portable device can do. "In order for them to enter into the market, they have to feel like they have something really innovative to present to consumers," he says.

A device twice the size of the iPhone, with a 7-inch touch-screen, a mobile version of iWork and Bluetooth connectivity is what Oh says he can see coming to market. Another big component will be VOIP capability. "One of the things you've been seeing with the iPhone is that they've been pushing VOIP apps off to the side," Oh says. "I think that if Apple comes in with a mobile device and it comes with VOIP because it's not locked in with an AT&T contract, suddenly they've opened up a new application that might be an opportunity for them to create real value-add for their device."

Regardless, Oh says rumors remain rumors and cautions that trying to predict where Apple is going to go next is never easy. "There is always a risk if they come in with the wrong product with the wrong features-but it's been a long time since they've done it, and the netbook is a prime opportunity to run that risk," he admits. "But the one thing in all these years I've learned is, trying to guess what Apple is going to create in their ecosystem is impossible."

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