76 Comments

Summary:

Apple Announces Netbook! That’s the headline you wanted to see, right? That’s the headline that industry analysts and so-called experts believe Apple must have to remain relevant in today’s economic climate. That’s also the headline you’re not likely to come across unless it happens to be April 1st.

The truth is, Apple already has a netbook on the market, which they’ve been selling for over a year now. It’s called the MacBook Air.

imacnetbook

Apple Announces Netbook! That’s the headline you wanted to see, right? That’s the headline that industry analysts and so-called experts believe Apple must have in order to remain relevant in today’s economic climate. That’s also the headline you’re not likely to come across unless it happens to be April 1.

“It’s not a space we’re interested in,” according to Steve Jobs, and a few others at Apple. At least one site run by a reputable Mac journalist claims to have first-hand knowledge that a netbook does indeed exist deep inside Apple’s headquarters, but goes on to back up what we’ve already heard: It’s a prototype, and it’s just not going to ship.

The truth is, Apple already has a netbook on the market, which they’ve been selling for quite a while now. It’s called the MacBook Air. It’s a powerful, good-looking notebook with a full-sized keyboard, spacious 120GB hard drive, and a 13.3-inch, backlit LED screen. It’s capable of running a full version of Mac OS X Leopard, iLife, iWork, and Microsoft Office at full speeds, as well as light-duty graphics work in Adobe Photoshop.

Compare that with most sub-$600 netbooks currently on the market, which run some obscure distribution of Linux, or cripple-ware known as Windows XP Home, and you start to see why netbooks aren’t all that appealing for many people. Not to mention, the standard LCD screens fall in the 10-inch range, the touchpad is practically guaranteed to wear out from excessive scrolling, the keyboards are 80 percent of “normal” size for people with Barbie doll-sized hands, and hard drives are smaller than your standard iPod.

And let’s talk about power. The MacBook Air features a full Core 2 Duo processor, while most netbooks are running an Intel Atom or Celeron processor that barely outperforms my digital watch in modern-day tasks!

Do you really want a netbook?

When I ask around to friends and colleagues about why they bought a netbook, the answer was always the same: “It was small and cheap.” But when I ask them what they thought of it outside those two factors, I didn’t get much in the way of positive comments. Tiny screen, hard to type on, cheap-feeling hardware, and junkware were a few of the descriptions I heard. I thought perhaps this was due to the fact that most of these people weren’t terribly computer-savvy folks, but apparently it’s more widespread than that.

According to this report from The NPD Group, a leading market research firm, only 58 percent of consumers who bought a netbook said they were satisfied, while 65 percent said they expected the same performance as a regular laptop. Many were so unsatisfied that they returned them. How many? Intel’s Sean Maloney was quoted in this article as saying, “They [netbooks] had very high return rates, and a couple of these guys [retailers] had return rates in the 30 percent range, which is a disaster.” Three out of every 10 get returned? Yikes!

In fact, after a slight dip in sales at Amazon.com, when interest in netbooks was at a fever pitch, Apple is back at the top of the sales chart with the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which has been the top-selling laptop since the moment it was introduced.

Mac Users Want More

The market is apparently showing what Apple, and Steve Jobs, already knew. People want small and cheap, but they don’t want to give up power. As Mac users, we want more from our hardware, and we’re willing to pay a bit more for it. That demand prohibits Apple from selling a powerful, small, and cheap laptop.

Sure, it would be great to have a $500 MacBook. But do you really want to spend that much for a Mac that has limitations that might include a smaller keyboard, a smaller screen, a stripped-down OS, the inability to edit or even watch videos with smooth playback, or a hard drive only large enough to keep a small sampling of your iPhoto and iTunes collection on in order to save room for other documents. I sure don’t, and I suspect that I’m not alone.

Apple's MacBook Air

Apple's MacBook Air

The MacBook Air, as I stated earlier, is quite a capable little machine. The lack of numerous ports and a media drive initially struck me as absolute craziness at the highest levels at Apple. But when I look at how I use my current 15-inch MacBook Pro, I was surprised to notice how little I actually used the media drive; the Firewire and USB ports; the card slot and the ethernet port. I do most of my heavy-duty graphics work on a Mac Pro at the office, so the extent of my laptop use is light-duty graphics for the web, office and web apps, with the occasional iMovie or iPhoto work.

I suspect my laptop use is typical of most laptop users, except I paid a premium for some extra processor power that I don’t use, a slightly faster hard drive and slightly larger screen that aren’t worth the extra weight or battery use over a MacBook Air.

In fact, when I look at my usage, I really need a netbook. My next laptop will be something cheaper, smaller, lighter and just a little less powerful, but not crippled. A netbook. Most likely it will be named MacBook Air.

Note: I highly doubt Apple will ever release what most consider a netbook. But I’m fully prepared to eat my words, if I have to. After all, I didn’t expect an OS X upgrade to cost only $29, either. With Apple, you just never know what the next headline will be.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. This actually makes perfect sense. Having just spent several weeks traveling with both my iphone and my MBP, the one thing I kept wishing for as I either squinted to see the screen of the iphone, or cursed the weight of the MBP, was not something that was less powerful or capable, it was something that was bigger and more usable than an iphone and lighter than a MB or MBP. The MBA seems to fit this perfectly.

    Now, how to justify buying one with nary a travel plan on the horizon…

  2. I have an MBA, and I’ve used the stand-alone optical drive just once to upgrade iLife. Plan to use it again in September to upgrade to Snow Leopard. Otherwise I wouldn’t need one – since borrowing a drive over a wi-fi connection is annoyingly slow.

  3. the problem with the Air is that it has all of the disadvantages of a netbook, yet costs significantly more than even a normal MacBook.

    Honestly I’m pretty shocked that ANYONE would shell out so much money for what amounts to just a mildly thinner computer. But I suppose it looks really neat when you open it up at Starbucks.

    1. Why does everyone hate on popular companies? Who wants to open an Acer netbook while drinking over-bitter coffee at McDonald’s? Coooool.

      1. We’re not “hating on” anyone. Those of us who have managed to break free from the sheep mentality know that the coffee at McDonald’s is better than Starbucks at 1/3 the cost. We also know that Acer/Asus/HP/Dell/MSI netbooks are more functional and 1/2 the price of a MacBook which is nice to look at.

  4. It is SO simple: They would have to design a new operating system. A Mac OS X Light – or a iPhone OS Extended. No way. End of story. :)

  5. I’ve telling people the exactly same thing, but they just don’t believe.
    Take a look: http://altcore.blogspot.com/2008/12/netbook-da-apple-uma-obsesso.html

    Wake up fanboys, please!

  6. The netbooks i have seen honestly are not worth buying considering the advancements on computers these days a netbook are practically being outdated the day you buy them. Also think about what a netbook in for, quick portable small task computing. You are not running major programs here people. Macbook air is a nice computer but lacks things that a netbook have like a cd drive and multiple usb ports. I think these few things are critical for on the go business computing but if people are just buying them because they are cheap you would be better off getting a PSP.

  7. Apple is wrong, soooo wrong for not putting out a netbook. I just loaded OS X 10.5.5 on my MSI Wind (Yes, it’s a Hackintosh) and I LOVE IT. In Fact, I love it so much that my next purchase will be a Macbook Pro.. I’m a windows guy (and honestly Windows 7 is AWESOME too) and would have NEVER have given Mac a chance, but now that I’ve had time to play with the OS I am willing to spend the extra $$$ on the Mac hardware. Although I will probably wait until the end of year and will dual boot with Windows 7 Ultimate.

    Apple could use cheap netbooks to increase their position in the windows market.. Why not? They sell the Mac mini for almost no profit? I’m sure plenty of Mac mini users upgrade to iMac’s relatively quickly? I bet the same thing would happen in the netbook segment. It’s the free drugs theory, when they’re hooked, then you make them pay…

    Just my two cents… Anything to put OS X into the hands of someone that wouldn’t normally go there is a good thing, even if they have to sacrifice a few dollars (or lower than normal profit margins) getting there…

    1. My opinion is a little bit different on this Hackintosh thing. I own a MSI Wind running OS X 10.5.7 but I must say it doesn’t taste like a real Mac.

      In fact, I think my opinion is different because I’m a Mac User and don’t discover OS X on a hackintosh, but OS X is far more better than what you are actually experiencing. It’s far more comfortable and usable.

      I must admit I was pretty impressed by perfs since I managed to do way more than I imagined : edit a movie with iMovie, use GarageBand as a 4-track recorder, edit pictures, run Kinemac, etc. But at the end of the journey, there was something wrong…

      Owning a Hackintosh and a Macintosh allowed me to see that Mac was not only OS X, it was also hardware. In fact, when Macusers tell you Mac = a combo of hardware and software, people usually laugh. I personally thought they were a little bit mistaken and that they overconsidered the hardware side of Mac. To be honest, I was insanely wrong.

      A hackintoshed netbook as nothing to do with Mac. It gives you only a little part of what Mac is. Those netbooks are cheap and that’s for sure. So I guess if you love your hackintosh, you’re a Mac fanboy and you don’t know it yet. I’m quite sure you wouldn’t believe your eyes if you used a real Mac daily…

      That being said, I wonder if the netbook market is not already dead. They now turn to 11″ computers and tablets ( especially Archos ). Problem is people see netbooks as sub-notebooks because manufacturers release sub-notebooks netbooks. Moreover they all do the same hardware : N270 Atom, 160GB HDD, 1GB RAM, Windows XP…

      Thus I think it’s not Apple’s strategy to release such a thing. Why would they build a netbook while surveys shows people are disappointed ? Why would they release something which means cheapness ? Yhey have to release something else. Let’s say if Archos 9 tablet ships with Windows Seven and that Archos guys don’t optimize Seven for the touchscreen, it woudl be a good idea to release a MacTablet with a dedicated OS X. Then Archos tablet will be seen as utter crap and Apple stuff could be seen as innovative, revolutionary and different.

  8. Wow, I promise to proof read on future posts!!

  9. While I always have my Macbook with me, I am finding my iPhone takes the place of what I’d use a netbook for.

    I’ve looked at them, but the iPhone being able to e-mail, tweet, newsread over AT&T, plus using QuickDocs as a word processer, I find I’m very productive that way.

    1. This is a much better argument then the extremely flawed argument the original article tries to make. There is no universe where a $1500 laptop is a competitor to 300-500 laptops.

      The iPhone for a lot of users I think could replace what they’d use a netbook for, and it’s logical to think that Apple will keep pushing the iPhone as their competitor in the segment.

      Apple basically portrays themselves as a premium/image brand, and that’s probably why they’re staying out of the NetBook market. You don’t see Mercedes Benz competing with the Corolla, and that’s because MB owners like that their cars are somewhat exclusive. People like to whip out their glowing white Apple logo-ed beauties to show off that they have a fancier, better computer than the next guy. It shows in most forum threads about this topic as well, it’s a somewhat elitist and status oriented group, the same as you’d run into with luxury car enthusiasts. People who are passionate about the make and like it being exclusive.

      That said, there is merit to the idea that Apple will do something unusual in the segment. Something between the iPhone and a full PC, for example…a larger screened iPhone tablet or something isn’t completely unreasonable.

      But it seems plenty of Apple users are happy to keep Apple as a nitch brand that carries a status with it. It’s curious whether Apple will mirror that mindset, or look into expanding into bigger and better markets.

    2. @James.

      If the MBA had a 500gb drive, I’d actually think of getting one. There’s times when having a light, MacBook-footprint laptop would be great.

      My ’06 WhiteBook needs an update, and I gave the Air a ton of thought. But the 1 usb/small hard drive is too much of a sacrifice for me. There’s a few spots at the house and at work I need a wired connection and losing the one USB port to that would be a killer.

      But, as I said (and you agreed with), my iPhone does quite well in that.

      Today, I was in a doctor’s office and saw a book in a magazine I want to get. Rather than jot the name down, I just took a pic with the iPhone, and when I got in the car used the Amazon app to add it to my wish-list.

  10. Uh. The comparison here between the MBA and netbooks is a bit moronic considering the price difference which is the one fact conveniently left out here. I realize that this is an “apple blog” and I love my apple as much as the next person, but you really don’t need to be so blatantly biased.

    MBA $1400 vs Netbook ~$400.

    The whole point of the netbook is to augment standard machines with one that is extremely portable, has “good enough” power to do 90% of what most people need, and at a very small cost. Considering that, comparing the MBA to a netbook makes me think that you don’t understand the concept.

    Netbooks even fit into a manilla envelope if that’s what you’re in to…

    1. “The whole point of the netbook is to augment standard machines with one that is extremely portable, has “good enough” power to do 90% of what most people need, and at a very small cost. Considering that, comparing the MBA to a netbook makes me think that you don’t understand the concept”

      Absolutely.

      I’m as much of a “Mac person” as you’re likely to find; I currently have five of them in my office, four at home (including three laptops), and I advocate for the platform as much as possible. Macs run my business, and I can’t imagine my life without them.

      Having said that, I recently bought a netbook for general family use, and I love it for on-the-go computing. In fact, I liked it so much, I bought two more for myself and my daughter this weekend. For $250 on sale at Target, they were a no-brainer, and only the blindest partisan could fail to see that.

Comments have been disabled for this post