You’d think that comparing netbooks to Apple iPhone isn’t fair. After all, netbooks are phones and the iPhone isn’t a notebook right? I think this is worth a comparison however, mainly because Apple continues to see netbooks as a "niche" product market and also due to some thoughts that the iPhone can replace a portable computer.
Putting aside the debate of whether we’re comparing Apples to
netbooks Apples or not, let’s look at sales numbers for the third quarter. Last week we saw smartphone numbers out of Gartner and they showed 4.7 million iPhones shipped. DisplaySearch just reported netbook sales for the same quarter and they came in 5.6 million units sold.
Let’s put these numbers in another light as people so often discuss Apple’s staggering growth in the mobile phone market even though it’s a market they only entered in June of 2007. It truly is staggering that they can capture so much market share in less than 18 months. But the first netbook wasn’t even available when Apple’s first iPhone handset arrived. In fact, you need to wait another four months or so for the original Asus Eee PC 701, which we saw around October of 2007. I’d call that the unofficial "birth" of the netbook market, meaning it’s a younger product than the iPhone. Yet it has now surpassed the iPhone in terms of sales and it’s doing so at a faster growth rate.
It’s interesting to watch how long Apple will continue to play a "wait-and-see" attitude towards this "niche" market. Of course, that’s a public "wait-and-see"; nobody outside of Cupertino’s closed doors truly knows what’s happening behind the curtain in private.
I still believe that there’s room in Apple’s product lineup for a less expensive computing device sitting between an iPhone and the MacBook. In fact, there’s been much talk of integrated 3G in netbooks of late, and particularly in carrier subsidies: consumers pay a low price for the netbook and commit to a data plan with a carrier which reduces the initial outlay. It’s a method that’s already in place for the iPhone 3G, so is it really a stretch to think it couldn’t be applied to Apple’s version of a netbook, whatever that might be?