Apple and Netbooks

Apple MacBook Air Kevin Tofel over at jkOnTheRun wrote a good summary of why we’ll probably see an Apple netbook sometime this year. He listed three very good reasons why Apple will produce a netbook, and I agree for the most part – I differ on the issue of timing, but I’m not so sure that Apple has a choice on timing at this point. With one of the last holdouts, Sony, even saying “we have to participate“, Apple will be the only major player without a netbook.

Kevin’s reason:
1) Apple is way overdue on MacBook Pro refreshes and designs (important when taken in context with the other reasons). His reasoning – a lot of new technology has come out since the MacBook Pros were first released, and a major refresh would take advantage of those newer technologies.

2) The 13.3” MacBooks could possibly be absorbed into the MacBook Pro line, based on what HP just did (HP has released the 13.3″ Pavilion dv3500t which has an NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS graphcis chipset while the MacBook is relying on Intel’s integrated graphics chipsets, and the dv3500t is in the MacBook price range). If Apple adds better graphics to the MacBook, then it would be very close to the MacBook Pro (as Kevin points out, one of the key differences between the consumer and pro Apple lineups is the graphics chipsets).

3) If they bump up the graphics and it’s added to the Pro line, the MacBook name is open. Sounds a little like netbook, so why not? He points out that he and many others have used OS X on netbooks already and that while resolutions were an issue, HP has the 8.9″ 2133 Mini-Note with a high resolution display that would handle OS X just fine.

He brings up the 13.3″ ultraportable MacBook Air and believes the Air was testing the waters for that market, and I agree. It’s a very niche product because of the price in my opinion. There is a market, but it’s not nearly as big as the MacBook or Pro lines.

As he mentions, the claim of an Apple netbook eating into upper Apple product lines is possible, but netbooks are on a pace that is just incredible when compared to Apple’s growth, and as a result Apple can’t ignore it.

The only disagreement I would make is timing – my gut says Apple would want to wait until there are dual-core Intel Atoms and until Intel releases a better platform/chipset sometime next year. This is especially important in regards to Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” being oriented towards dual-core chips.

The problem with my scenario is this: Apple can’t wait. Netbooks are growing way too fast as far as market share and overall sales. Three months ago, Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Sony, etc., didn’t have products out, or weren’t even talking about them. Now Dell and Lenovo have netbooks out, along with Fujitsu rolling them out, and as I said earlier, Sony has admitted they don’t have a choice.

My last thought is this: Many of the suppliers that Apple uses for their MacBooks and MacBook Pros are supplying netbook manufacturers (or in fact making netbooks either under their own brands or selling them under somebody else’s brand). Apple now has a lot of experience with smaller displays (ala the iPhone which is running a version of OS X), they have a large amount of experience gleaned from the MacBook Air (which really pushed how much they could cram into a small package).

Most importantly, they have a good relationship with Intel (as evidenced by the CPU that went into the MacBook Air that Intel provided to Apple before they provided it to anybody else).

It’s certainly possible that Apple could use an Intel Atom, but it’s also possible they could offer an 11.1″ that uses the MacBook Air’s CPU and just stay out of the netbook market, however that drives the price up.

Apple’s goals are to be everywhere, and it only makes sense that they won’t be the only major manufacturer left out of the netbook market – they will enter it.

Read: jkOnTheRun