Netbook Shipments Skyrocket, Apple Still Missing the Boat

The Register’s Tony Smith notes in a report that the last 12 months have been good for netbook makers, who cumulatively shipped 30.2 million of the mini laptops in that period. According to market watcher Strategy Analytics, that’s 79 percent more than they moved in 2008 and amounts to 50-60 percent of total portable PCs shipped and around 17-20 percent of PCs sold overall.

The researcher also forecasts further growth this year as netbook chips deliver more performance and ARM licensees take on Intel’s (s intc) dominant Atom platform.

The iPad (s aapl) notwithstanding, I’m still convinced that Apple has fumbled the ball in not offering a netbook. If it can sell an iPad for $500, I deduce that a netbook with a clamshell form factor, a real keyboard and trackpad, plus ideally a low-powered Intel Core CPU, decent connectivity, and capability to run the real Mac OS, should be eminently possible at an entry-level price of $600-$650 — at which I contend it would be a strong seller. It’d certainly be a machine that would appeal to me much more than the iPad does in its announced configuration.

Chinese Knockoffs

A knockoff outfit in China is showing the way, having released a tantalizing example of the potential for a truly appealing Apple netbook, if Apple were inclined to play ball. The Chinese tech industry-watching blog M.I.C (ie: “Made-In-China”) has posted a review of what it calls “the ultimate MacBook Air knockoff” — the best MacBook Air wannabe ever, featuring a real glowing Apple logo and a form factor almost as thin as the real MBA — which M.I.C. thinks is possibly the most beautiful product the Chinese knockoff makers have ever copied. I’m inclined to agree.

Of course it’s not really a Mac, and OS X is not supported. It is a PC netbook in ersatz Mac clothing, powered by the latest version of the ubiquitous 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 CPU with 1GB of RAM (upgradable to 2GB RAM at a modest additional cost of $180 RMB), a 160GB hard drive, a 13.3-inch (1280 x 800) LED-backlit display and a swappable 4-cell battery, plus 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and, get this — selling for only $1,900 RMB (about $280). To say it’s much more affordable than Apple’s real MacBook Air is an extreme understatement.

The M.I.C. reviewers say typing is a pleasure on the MBA knockoff’s full-sized keyboard, and there’s a spacious trackpad too, although it doesn’t support multitouch technology.

Connectivity-wise, the knockoff netbook is somewhat less challenged than a real MacBook Air, with two USB 2.0 ports rather than the MBA’s one, a mini-HDMI port, and one headphone jack, but you also get an Ethernet port and a SD-card slot — not bad at all for a $280 laptop. There’s also a webcam along with an infrared detector beside it.

The downside cited is noise, with the fan reportedly running almost nonstop during basic operation, which would be tiresome, especially if you’re fan noise-averse like me.

As far as I can tell, these units aren’t likely to ever make it to North America as it’s a given that Apple Legal would have a lot to say about it. But if they were available, I don’t think I could resist. It looks like a great little inexpensive solution for taking on the road, and possibly running Ubuntu or Puppy Linux on instead of Windows.

How about you? Would a machine like this appeal? More pointedly, don’t you wish Apple would build a netbook Mac like this?