On Apple Netbooks

I love Macs. I make my living working on, around, and with them. I use a late-model iMac at home as my main machine, and even though I have a MacBook from work, my main laptop is the Asus Eee PC. It’s portable (8.9 inches across), runs Ubuntu, and is very handy to take places, especially if I ride my bike.

But I would drop it in a heartbeat if Apple released a netbook.

There are two things required of netbooks:

– Cheap. We’re talking $400-$600.

  • Small. Under 10 inches across. (9 inches is about perfect… no “that’s what she said” comments, please)

Apple has yet to hit that first target. Twice has Apple offered a laptop for $999- the iBook G4, and the current white plastic MacBook.

They almost hit the first target with the PowerBook Duo, a tiny (expensive) laptop the company offered in the early 1990s. The machine, while underpowered, could be used in conjunction with the “Duo Dock,” that took the little laptop that could and morphed it into a full-blown desktop machine complete with a CRT, additional power and storage space.

Just about perfect, you say? Many thought so, but the company discontinued the line in 1997.

With the explosion of netbooks on the market now, many have asked if Apple would join Asus, HP, and others in the realm of little laptops. During a recent event where he released updated notebooks, Steve Jobs was asked “ Are we going to see a netbook?”

The answer: “In terms of netbooks, that’s a nascent market… that’s just getting started.”

That’s like your parents telling you “may” get a pony at Christmas. It ain’t happening.

But people are still asking. On today’s Q4 call (where they announced $1.14 Billion profit), the question came again.

“Can you comment about the pricing of the Mac line? And thoughts about netbooks?”

Steve Jobs replied:

“This particular downturn is not creating a market of cheaper computers. That market has existed. There are parts of that market we choose not to play in. We choose to be in certain segments of the market, and choose not to be in certain segments. Will the downturn drive customers to different cheaper products? I’d be surprised if that happened in large numbers. I think there are a tremendous number of customers that we don’t have that… can afford to buy Apple products. We’ll see what the ratio of those two are, but we’re not tremendously worried. The netbook: not a lot of them getting sold, one of our entrants into that category is the iPhone. Browsing, connectivity, etc… the iPhone is a pretty good solution to that. We’ll see how the netbook evolves, and we have some pretty interesting ideas if it does evolve.

Apple views the iPhone as an ”entrant" into the netbook realm. I can’t argue with that, as I use my Eee and my iPhone for very similar tasks.

So maybe Apple already has a netbook. It just makes calls, too. But I bet we see another little Apple laptop before the end of the decade.

**And no, the MacBook Air is not an ultra-portable. It’s really thin, but has the same footprint as the MacBook. And it is $1799.