∞ Apple's netbook and why we'll never see it

Deep in the hallways of Apple’s Cupertino headquarters sits an Apple netbook. That’s right, it’s there, but it will never see the light of day. Why? Because it’s just like every other netbook, and thankfully, that’s just not good enough for Apple. macbookairBesides the fact that I know the company has a netbook, it makes perfect sense that they have one. Think about it–a new product category crops up and you think Apple doesn’t have a few prototypes in the works, just to see what they can do different. Of course they do.

The problem with a netbook is that it’s a netbook. I’m not a big fan of them in general because I expect something more from what is essentially a scaled down notebook. I think Apple does too and that’s why Apple’s netbook will never make it to consumers.

What could Apple possibly do to change the category–better yet revolutionize the category? I’m sure they could release some cool things and make it thin and lightweight, but that’s hardly revolutionary.

Apple hasn’t denied that they are keeping on eye on the space, but thoughts from top executives have been quite clear. Here’s what Apple COO Tim Cook said during the earnings conference call with analysts in April:

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.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.

Here’s something else to consider: consumers are confused about the whole notebook, netbook thing. A recent report from NPD found that 60 percent of consumers who purchased a netbook instead of a notebook thought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks.

Can you imagine the screaming about how bad Apple’s computers are if they released a netbook when the people buying didn’t know what they were getting? Despite the fact that other PC manufacturers can get away with releasing inferior computers, Apple is held–and holds itself–to higher standard.

What Apple is more likely to do is release the long rumored tablet. This would be revolutionary. It would be a brand new category that the rest of the industry would try to emulate, copy and steal, after trying to convince themselves they aren’t worried about the new product.

Apple has redefined the music player category, the smartphone market and now they are on the verge of doing it with the tablet. I’m not saying the tablet will be coming out any time soon, I think only Steve Jobs knows that. What I am saying is that it will be a game changer when it does arrive.

People have speculated for months that an Apple netbook release was imminent. I don’t believe it. I’ll wait for something more revolutionary.

  • KiltBear

    I don’t really need a netbook, I have my iPhone… what I do need is to be able to use a bluetooth keyboard with my iPhone, like one of those laser keyboards the size of a pen that projects the keyboard onto any flat surface.

  • I saw a promo today for a refurbished AirBook for $999. I paid $1900+ including sales tax. The AirBook is a very “nice” computer. I know it is not $399, but seriously, $999. Very good deal.

  • Adam

    Apple’s prototype, if in fact it exists, isn’t “just like every other netbook.” Even as a prototype, this is what Apple doesn’t want to build, what Apple has to transcend. I don’t think that the iPhone prototypes were just like every other Motorola or Nokia cellphone. What would have been the use of such a prototype?

    If Apple is at work on a netbook competitor, it will try to solve the product’s perceived problems: cramped keyboard, very small screens, terrible software, in all, bad user experience. Apple’s prototype, if it exists, has to be fundamentally different from the traditional netbook. Cook’s statement tells it all: “And if we can find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we’ll do that.” You don’t make a contribution by slapping an Apple logo on a MSI Wind and loading OS X on the poor thing.

    This is better left to end users. 😀

    The MSI Wind becomes the Apple MacBook Nano: http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/11/11/the-msi-wind-becomes.html

  • Greg

    In my mind’s eye (which often lies!!) I pictured, on the Apple desk mentioned above:

    1) a small (netbook/notebook) computer with a pico-projector instead of (or, actually, in addition to) an LCD screen,

    2) an optimized version of OS X (a la iPhone),

    3) a touch-screen keyboard (also a la iPhone)

    All three of these would work well with a tablet/netbook, no?

    I think those would change the game sufficiently to possibly warrant Apple’s Mac moniker.

    They could use this to streamline their product line thusly:

    Desktop Laptop Tablet (or iPhone Pro??) iPhone iPod

    But I agree, why bother getting into it unless they’re really gonna clean up with their offering?

  • Eric

    Went to Fry’s on Sunday and saw the netbooks they had on sale. Horrible. I’d rather just use my iPhone to do email when I can’t be bothered with a full-sized computer.

    Apple is on the right track. Could it be they’re waiting for good quality voice to text? It appears there are bugs in the new voice controls on the iPhone 3GS, so I’m guessing that’s going to be the hold-up to a keyboard-less tablet.

  • Jim

    It is my opinion that 99% of the people out there that say they want a “netbook” simply mean they want a regular laptop that costs less than $500.

    The MacBook Air IS Apple’s “netbook” – they just charge a little more. Oh yeah, they also don’t cripple it down into a “useless for anything more than emailing” pile of silicon.

    Imagine if Apple had to come-up with a “netbook” as compared to the Windows netbooks out there:

    The Apple NetBook 2ghz, 256MB RAM, 40GB HD, 10″ screen

    Sorry, but it can’t run iMovie, iDVD, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat or Flash. No CD or DVD burning capabilities at all. No USB, Firewire, Display or Ethernet ports either.

    But hey, it only costs $499. SUCH A DEAL!

    No thanks. I can get a sub-$6,000 car brand new – doesn’t mean I would actually want to own one though.

  • dbtc

    I’m a mac fan. Have been for 20+ years. Last month I bought a Dell 10″ netbook for $390.00 new. I didn’t want to lug my 15 MacBook Pro on a trip to China we were taking. The Dell was great in size and weight. We were able to surf the web when available and email. I loved the physical hardware and what it offered. But in the end it was not a Mac. I returned it yesterday before the return period ended. If Apple had a netbook with the same specs and the Mac OS on it I would get one for traveling to compliment my other Macs.

  • Of course a company with over $25 billion in the bank and design smarts would develop a product just to see how unproductive the idea for it was. I’d love to know how many other thought experiments they’ve worked out over the years by building them.

    Apple’s netbook would be the best in its class, but it would be ultimately unprofitable (think of the support costs from cheapskate netbook users who can’t RTFM) and less than elegant, like the mini.

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  • That’s funny that Tim Cook said all that since we know now that the iPad was clearly in development! Haha.