A case for Apple netbooks.

Whenever someone mentions that Apple should make a netbook, the fanboys come out in droves, fervently defending The Great Jobs and Co.’s failure to enter that space as the smartest way to go. They say Apple doesn’t need a netbook, and that machines like the Macbook Air and really the future. They defend the idea that netbooks aren’t consumer friendly because they’re underpowered, have cramped keyboards and won’t last more than a couple of years. There’s no margin on netbooks, they say, so why would Apple want to offer a product that would steal from the popular Macbook line?

We’ll, I’ve owned my little Acer AspireONE now for well over six months. It set me back all of $350. I opted for the 120g optical drive rather than the 8g flash drive, and chose the Windows XP model over the cheaper Linux model. What I can tell you after living with the AspireONE is I have never been happier with a tech purchase. Ever. And that includes my Garmin GPS and my iPod Touch.

First off, the netbook is not underpowered. In fact, it’s perfectly powered. Would I like more snap? Yes, I would. But I have run Photoshop, Dreamweaver, an FTP client and two browsers at the same time on it when I was throwing up a quick web page. Obviously I wouldn’t use it to do any hard-core coding, and the screen’s a tiny bit small for real photo editing, but I’ve found it handles most software in the Adobe Creative Suite quite well. I’ve also done some light audio editing with Audacity, encoded video clips and made some pretty decent PDFs using InDesign. I’m not saying it’s an ideal production machine, but in a pinch I’ve found that it’s been able to do the work — even if it is a bit bogged down.

Cramped keyboard? No chance. I’m a quick typer. I type a lot. It took all of a day and a half to get used to the Acer’s keyboard, and it’s a heckuva lot better to type on than, say, an iPhone. Hands down.

Will it last more than two years? Probably not. But guess what? I don’t want or need it to. It runs XP. Within a year I’ll want a faster netbook, probably running Windows 7 (or OSX). We’ve got to start thinking about our technology as being somewhat disposable; advancements in technology make any gadget obsolete by the time you get it home. For that, the price of a netbook is perfect. It isn’t the investment a Macbook Air would be. And let’s face it, from a portability standpoint, you can’t beat it. I’d have a hard time carrying an Air around, just based on the fear of breaking it. No such fear with the Acer, though. I through it in my bag, throw it in the car, and it always works.

But I guess the argument that bugs me the most is that Apple wouldn’t make enough profit per unit sold on netbooks. The most galling thing about this argument is that the fanboys are actually admitting they’re paying a high markup on every Apple product they buy. Unbelievable. This leads me into a discussion about the perception of worth, and how that’s worked quite well for Apple…but I won’t go there yet.

As I said in my last post, Apple’s market share in the personal computer market will likely stagnate until it creates more and better gateway products. The iPod was supposed to be that device; there was a time when iTunes wasn’t even available for  PC users. No Mac? No iPod. That scenario didn’t make people want to buy Macs, but iPod sales exploded as soon as iTunes was available for PCs. Now Apple can build a Shuffle for about $25 and sell it for $80, and folks think that’s just fine.

The first iMac was supposed to be a gateway product. It was cute, colorful and inexpensive. Sales were good. But it didn’t make enough people really really want real Macs. And the Mac mini…cheaper than a full-blown G4, certainly, but not enticing enough for the mass market. I say all of this with full knowledge of the fact that up until this year, Apple’s market share was growing. The point is that fanboys love to pretend that Apple doesn’t need gateway products or loss leaders; in fact, they love to claim Apple’s business has been built on customer experience and customer loyalty. To a degree they’re right: the fierce loyalty to Apple products has helped the company grow considerably. But Apple has a history of using gateway products and loss leaders. Heck, most of us (myself included) used Apple IIe labs in elementary school. And what we’ve seen in the last year or two is that although Apple is cleaning up in the mobile space with over 17 million iPhones sold, those sales are not translating into Apple-loyal consumers.

I have no doubt that if Apple put some heads together it could make the best netbook on the market. It would be thinner than that slick Sony Vaio entry and certainly sexier than my Acer. With the flash drive of the Air and all the other bells and whistles Apple’s known for, folks would be chomping at the bit. Does it have to be sub-$500? I don’t think so. But for under $600 you’d sell a whole lot of them. And if you didn’t make bank, at least you’d have introduced a whole lot of folks to OSX. And those people will be a lot easier to convince into buying that $4,000 chunk of hardware you’re trying to sell.

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2 Responses to A case for Apple netbooks.

  1. theapplemind says:

    I agree that a Apple netbook would be awesome and yes it probably would be successful and the lonely white macbook might indicate a change in their line close to or what you’re suggesting. I don’t think they’d use the term “netbook” because in general it refers to small laptops that are “cheap” and fairly “weak” (Even though they do have plenty of power for everyday tasks). I see it as a possibility, but I think a cheaper tablet would be more of an Apple move than moving into the netbook category.

    • asciidan says:

      You may be right; they might not use the term “netbook,” but I think that has more to do with attitude than product. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the tablet possibility, but I’m not too excited about it. Apparently the idea is not for a tablet that runs OSX, but for an oversized iPod Touch, which would be more underpowered than a netbook, and I have to say that although I love my iPod Touch, it just can’t do nearly as much as a fairly tiny computer can. I really believe Apple should create a small netbook-sized (10-inch display) notebook running OSX to introduce people to the operating system. And if the life of that machine is, say, a year or two, many Apple netbook customers would likely be so happy with OSX that they’d upgrade to a bigger, better machine — especially if the netbook trend is as fleeting as has been assumed. To me, any way they can get OSX in front of people is a positive move.

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