Two Possible Apple Responses to the Netbook

By  |  Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 10:15 am

Mac NetBookIn normal times, it’s standard operating procedure for Apple watchers to listen to Steve Jobs dismiss a product category, then come to the conclusion that his negativity simply means that Apple isn’t ready to enter it yet. At the moment, it’s acting CEO Tim Cook whose comments get parsed. As Jason Snell notes over at Macworld, Cook was pretty darn harsh about the downsides of netbooks during yesterday’s Apple financial conference call:

For us, it’s about doing great products. And when I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience… that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly. And so it’s not a space, as it exists today, that we’re interested in, nor do we believe that customers in the long term would be interested in.

But Cook didn’t say that Apple wouldn’t make a netbook, or something sort of like a netbook. Actually, he said that it might well do so:

That said, we do look at the space and are interested to see how customers respond to it. People that want a small computer (so to speak) that does browsing and e-mail might want to buy an iPod touch or an iPhone. So we have other products to accomplish some of what people buy netbooks for. So in that way we play in an indirect basis.

And if we can find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas in this space. The product pipeline is fantastic for the Mac. If you look at the past, in 17 of the last 18 quarters we’ve exceeded the market rate of growth, and to exceed it in this horrendous economy is quite an accomplishment, especially if you look at these very low-cost netbooks that I think is a stretch to call it a personal computer, that are really propping up unit numbers as a whole.

Deconstructing all this, Cook seems to be saying that Apple won’t make a product with:

1) a cramped keyboard

2) terrible software

3) junky hardware

4) a very small screen

That would seem to rule out anything that’s an exact counterpart to today’s netbooks. But it does leave room for two other products that Apple could make:

1) The widely-rumored tablet--which, I’m thinking, would more logically run the iPhone OS than the Mac OS. No keyboard, and an interface tailored to work well on a small screen. (I like my Asus Eee PC 1000HE, but there’s no question that Windows XP is a poor match for its screen resolution–I’m reminded of that every time I press the Start button and get a warning that it can’t display all the times.)

2) A computer which I still think there’s a good chance Apple will introduce–a replacement for today’s $999 white MacBook that’s a pretty traditional Mac notebook that costs more than a netbook ($800, maybe?) but is also posher than one, with a 13-inch screen and a full-sized keyboard.

Of course, there’s no reason why Apple couldn’t release both of these products, since they’d be complementary more than competitive.

I have no inside info; I try to steer clear of assuming that Apple will make products because they seem logical to me; I know that the fact that the company’s public statements suggest that it might go in a particular direction doesn’t mean it will. But if Apple were to make either or both of these products, I think it would at least be consistent with both Cook’s comments yesterday and the company’s overall philosophies.


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Josh Rose Says:

    “And so it’s not a space, as it exists today, that we’re interested in, nor do we believe that customers in the long term would be interested in.”

    I like the second part of that comment. That’s right, Apple, you know what’s best for me. Tell me, truly, what is so wrong about owning a netbook? How many people actually use one as their ONLY machine, which is what his implication is here. I own a netbook (eeePC 700) and use it as my satellite machine to my behemoth desktop. Seriously, it is EXCELLENT for this. It is lightweight, boots quickly, and perfect for light work or email. I don’t need Apple thinking that, somehow, a more expensive and expansive machine is what I need when out and about. My wife has a white Macbook, and it is her only machine and it works great. I’m not begrudging that. I’m just bothered that Cook thinks we, as consumers, might not want a netbook for reasons that it is directly designed for. Sigh…I guess this is also the mindset leading to no touchpad button or buttons period.

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