Kevin was all over the rumors out of Asia yesterday that Apple is ready to produce a netbook this year. The unconfirmed rumors have Apple getting a bunch of 10-inch touch-screens for inclusion on their netbook, even though they have stated emphatically they don’t do netbooks.
The rumors have picked up steam today with the Dow Jones Newswire picking up on the story. They reiterate that Wintek has confirmed a “netbook” is being readied with a touch-screen between 9.7 and 10 inches (pretty tight specs) for introduction in the last half of this year. This has many folks all abuzz with the thought of a cheap, small Apple netbook coming to fruition. Some even expect a slate device without a keyboard: a large iPod Touch if you will.
So what would a cheap Apple netbook be like?
Not cheap is a safe bet. I say this not because Apple doesn’t do cheap when it comes to notebooks (they don’t) but because of the hardware realities. If Apple is going to produce a notebook with a 10-inch touch-screen I can almost guarantee you it will have multi-touch. This is Apple’s hallmark after all, and they are not going to go with a cheap resistive touch-screen to keep costs down. An Apple netbook is almost certainly going to have a capacitive touch-screen capable of fine multi-touch control and these panels are not cheap.
It’s a safe bet that size constraints on a such a netbook would limit the possibility of a chiclet style keyboard. While some newer netbooks are starting to appear with chiclet keyboards, I believe that chiclet keyboards like those in current MacBooks require adequate space between keys to be functional and the chassis with a 10-inch screen is probably too narrow for that. This means we’ll see a traditional type of keyboard with real keys that can be placed right next to each other. No MacBook-like netbook in this regard. Regular keyboards are probably cheaper to make than chiclets anyway given all those extra holes they require in the chassis.
I don’t see Apple making a slate without a keyboard because based on past actions Apple believes that a computer (not a phone) needs a keyboard to be useful. Steve Jobs was rumored to have killed the Newton because “computers have keyboards“. I have to agree with him on this; touch-screens don’t make for good typing devices, no matter how much attention to detail is given. First of all, you have no way to set the slate up for typing, flat on a surface is not conducive to touch typing. That’s a moot point anyway with on-screen keyboards making for lousy touch typing input devices. No, the Apple netbook will have a keyboard I feel certain.
The only concession to keeping the cost down that Apple is likely to go with is a plastic casing. No expensive aluminum unibody no matter how sexy those are. I would expect a typical Apple white plastic case, kind of a littler MacBook. Apple might also strip OS X down to keep the netbook from competing with their own MacBook line. I can easily see them removing iLife and other software normally included with OS X.
The rest of the hardware that might be used is hard to guess. I don’t think Apple will go with the Intel Atom processor as it is too anemic for their tastes. Netbook owners put up with the Atom because their netbook cost just a few hundred dollars but the Apple netbook is likely to be over $700 so the Atom is out. You expect a “real” processor for that kind of money. A real hard drive is in order, too, as an SSD big enough to be sufficient would send that already high netbook cost even higher. Who would pay $1,000 for a stripped down MacBook? That’s what such a netbook would likely cost with an SSD.
Bear in mind that this is all just my opinion, I have no idea what Apple might do in the netbook space. I do feel pretty confident that an Apple offering won’t really fit in this low-cost space. It might be as small as other netbooks but the similarity will end there. Apple has already made it clear they don’t do crappy netbooks and that won’t change.