Apple to Sell Subsidized Notebooks in the U.K.?

The recent rise in the popularity and availability of netbooks has led some wireless carriers to package the computers at significant discounts for customers who purchase subscriptions. According to a recent report by Lisa Thompson, a tech research analyst with firm JRPG, Apple may be in talks to work out a similar deal with O2, a U.K.-based wireless provider.

A subsidized laptop offering from Apple would help alleviate complaints arising from the October 14 event that pricing on their new notebooks remained too high. Thompson also thinks that Apple is keen to avoid a netbook, as it might cannibalize MacBook sales, so discounting an existing product through a third-party allows them to essentially have their cake and eat it too.

The model to be discounted is thought to be the $999 entry-level white MacBook, a likely choice because it would require a much smaller subsidy than any of the new aluminum models. Many other computer manufacturers, like Dell and Asus, currently offer netbook/subscription packages with wireless carriers like the one proposed between Apple and O2, though such bundles have failed to attract much interest in North America.

O2 is already the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.K., making it the natural choice for a laptop subsidy partnership. Vodafone and Orange currently offer netbooks bundled with mobile broadband subscriptions in the U.K. Vodafone has both £25 and a £30 per month plans, offering 1GB and 3GB of data transfer, each of which includes an Inspiron Mini, free of charge. Orange offers 3GB at £25 per month, and throws in an Eee PC 900 (WinXP, 16GB SSD) for no further cost. Both providers require a two year minimum subscription to get the free hardware. If Apple does go ahead and offer a similar deal in partnership with O2, expect similar monthly pricing and bandwidth limits, and not free, but deeply discounted hardware.

Would you sign a contract to pick up an Apple notebook for a low initial cost? Or are mobile broadband bundles just another example of the cheap razor/expensive blades school of marketing misdirection?

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