Will Apple Join the Netbook Con?

by Chris Howard Dec 10, 2008

We all know the benefits of netbooks - small, light and portable - but it's an absolute con to suggest, as some folks have, they will become the dominant computing platform. And I don't think Apple is going to join that game anytime soon.

Hands up everyone who wants a netbook computer? Hmmm, most of you (myself included).

Ok, now hands up everyone who needs a netbook computer? Hmmm... as I suspected, not many of you at all.

It is true, for most folks, that 80% of their computer usage revolves web, email, casual gaming, managing their photos and a little word processing. All these tasks could be done on a netbook computer reasonably easily although not always conveniently, given the small screen.

Netbooks are fantastic for travellers, and, we're being told, for students.

But when you think about it, it amazes me people are talking seriously about netbooks for students. If it doesn't run Adobe CS, edit movies and have a screen suitable for those applications plus decent enough to make presentations, then I'm gunna resist big time if my school tries it on my kids.

I fear that in schools, if masses of students get lumbered with netbooks that are either under powered, and/or have limited screen real estate, they will become an embarrassing waste of money as they are begging to gather dust.

The big problem with the netbook is it is neither here nor there. iPhones - and sooner later its competitors - provide supreme portability while still allowing reasonably easy usage of the web, email, notes and a pretty good gaming experience. Plus, with the App Store, the iPhone can do almost anything you'd want of any handheld computer.

Your desktop or laptop provides all the higher end stuff, like movie editing, photo manipulation, presentations, spreadsheets and anything else you decide to do. Repeat, anything.

It's ironic that as we've demanded bigger and bigger screens, with 20 inch being the minimum nowadays, we're being told students will be happy with 9 inch screens.

So, between an iPhone and a laptop, you've got nearly all bases covered. Where's the netbook fit in? It's only really a benefit to someone on the road, such as your traveller, who wants a bigger screen and keyboard than the iPhone provides but something lighter and smaller than a laptop, while also only needing web, email, and photo management.

For most of us, having a netbook computer would be like having a different car for doing shopping.

Apple and the netbook
Steve said he won't make a $500 computer that's a piece of junk. But he also said he won't make a $500 computer no one will buy, that is, when he said Apple doesn't yet see a market for a netbook. However, he did say Apple is watching the netbook market keenly and will enter when and if necessary. Kinda reminds me of the tablet PC. We're still waiting for it to be a viable market.

Apple's problem with the netbook market is the same as why most people don't need a netbook. It's about that other 20% of usage, the usage that demands either a full sized screen or a high speed computer.

Plus Apple couldn't control that market like it can with the iPhone and App Store.

Apple may consider making the netbook a touchscreen device. But that would make it a tablet device and these just haven't found success beyond niche applications. And then Apple would essentially be setting it up against the iPhone.

Will MWSF 09 see a netbook? The market hasn't defined itself yet, so I'd be very surprised as I don't think this is one of those situations where Apple can define the market, and I don't think it would even want to. (But you can bet that if Apple does enter the netbook market, we'll all think they're the best ever and we really do need one.)

The irony in the netbook market is screens started at 7 inch but have progressed up to 10 inch, driven by the need for more screen real estate. Apple did already have the best netbook (except for the price), when it made the 12 inch Powerbook  - and yet one of the commonest complaints was the screen size.

So, yes I desperately want a netbook, I do drool over them, but with an iPhone and an iMac, I just can't justify a device that is a bit of both but not enough of either. After all, who needs three computers?

Unless Apple can find a way to convince us we need a third computer, I don't think you'll see a netbook from Apple anytime soon.

What's your opinion on Apple and netbooks?


  • Actually, I think you hit upon the point of a Netbook in your article, although you were trying to make a point against them: “For most of us, having a Netbook computer would be like having a different car for doing shopping.”

    This is true. I am a web designer and I have a huge Quad G5 in my office, with a big screen. It’s not very portable. I work entirely from home, and I don’t need a laptop to work on. That makes the price of the (admittedly gorgeous) 13” Macbook prohibitive.

    So I work my way down the line and get to $500 Dell laptops. Only thing is, they’re huge 15” beasts and they’re ugly. How can I justify having the word ‘designer’ in my job title and carry such a fugly commodity?

    SO then we step down to a Linux driven Netbook, and I find an item that costs only $300 (hence is almost disposable), looks reasonably cute (hello, Acer Aspire One), and will do what I need: run Thunderbird so I can get at my IMAP mail while at a client meeting, make notes in a text editor, add shit to a calendar, and even do rudimentary edits to web sites through Gedit and File Zilla (for those embarrassing occasions when you find a typo in a site). It will also let me quickly preview a site in Firefox.

    The best thing is, if it turns out I didn’t need it for anything, I didn’t lug a big laptop bag with accessories to a meeting and back for nothing - it was just shoved in my satchel next to my notebook, pen and bits.

    So here are the choices in first/second car terms. My main car is an Audi A6. It’s big, it’s fast, and does everything you could ever need. Till you try parallel-parking it on a crowded city street. It’s too much.

    Then there’s the Macbook, AKA a Mini Cooper S. It looks good, it’s about the right size, but it’s little overpowered for a city car and frankly, the price is way too high for occasional use.

    Next step down, your average laptop from Dell, et al. THis is a Kia saloon. It’s cheap, it has lots of stuff added to it to make it seem good value, but it’s not pretty and the build quality is average, even if it is likely to outlast religion. Sorry, I do have some pride.

    And last of all, the Acer Aspire One. This is a Smart FourTwo. It’s small, funky, stripped down, perfect for city driving/parking, economical and surprisingly fun. It may have a top speed of 80mph and only seat two, but there’s no more fun way of getting across a city than this - the thrill of being in a stripped-down car makes it as exciting as driving a Caterham 7. And it’s damn cheap.

    So my point? If we accept a Netbook is like having a second car to do the shopping in, we have to make sure we’re not looking at it from the point of a Ford Focus driver (the average computer user) but an Audi A6 / BMW 5-series / Mercedes E-class / Saab 9-5 driver, i.e. a professional Apple user.

    Will Apple get into this market? I hope not. Others like Lenovo and Dell have tried but can’t hit that low $299 price point that makes the Acer and Eee such a steal. What chance does Apple have? (And okay, I realise Smart are owned by Mercedes, but Apple don’t have a budget sub-brand. Yet.)

    evilcat had this to say on Dec 10, 2008 Posts: 66
  • Why not create a larger screen device into which you could plug an iPhone or Touch.  This device would have a keyboard and larger screen.  It could also have a battery to extend the life of the iPod/iPhone. 

    Something close already exists for playing movies stored in the Touch or iPhone on a larger screen.

    Use all of the functionality that comes with the Touch/iPhone plus provide a larger screen, functional keyboard, extended battery life, maybe external speakers, maybe use the iPod screen as a the touch pad, etc.  Done with the elegance of most Apple devices this might be attractive.

    rayjay8492 had this to say on Dec 10, 2008 Posts: 2
  • @evilcat, well said. For me, my car to do the shopping is my iPhone (which I’m writing this reply on).

    Chris Howard had this to say on Dec 10, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • @rayjay that’s an absolutely brilliant idea.

    Now that i’d buy!

    If I remember correctly, some company produced a mock up of one a few months ago.

    I’m not sure if apple would make on though.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Dec 10, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • @MacGlee

    Doh! You are correct, my spelling was off. I believe Smart have discontinued the ForFour though, as it was just a more expensive Mitsubishi Colt.

    evilcat had this to say on Dec 11, 2008 Posts: 66
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