Apple To Launch Touchscreen Netbook in 3Q 2009?

Apple MacBook Air We’ll treat it as a rumor for now, but among the rumors, it’s a lot more solid than mos. DigiTimes is reporting on a Chinese-language Commercial Times publication that Wintek will be providing touch panels for a touchscreen netbook from Apple. There is a lot more going on that gives legitimacy to the idea of such a touch screen device from Apple.

The report states that shipments will begin in the third quarter of this year, which would put its availability (July/August/September) right around the end of the back-to-school buying season, with Quanta Computer being the main manufacturer of Apple’s netbooks.

At this point, I believe it’s a given that Apple will produce something with a 9-inch – 11-inch display. AT&T is about to start pushing netbooks for people who want something a little more than a smartphone, but who want mobile broadband access, and don’t want to lug a conventional-sized laptop/notebook around.

I think it’s very telling what Apple’s Tim Cook said back in January:

“We’re watching that space, but right now from our point of view, the products in there are principally based on hardware that’s much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays…. We don’t think people will be pleased with those products. It’s a category we watch, we’ve got some ideas here, but right now we think the products are inferior and will not provide an experience to customers they’re happy with.”

Fast forward to this summer – with the NVIDIA Ion platform becoming available around the time that DigiTimes/Commercial Times is projecting for a touchscreen Apple device, HD-quality performance will be available in a small form factor (SFF) device, and Apple already has several of its products using an NVIDIA graphics chipset similar to the Ion. Apple has also been working on more support for multi-touch gestures in it’s upcoming OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and OS X 10.6 could be available around a July/August/September time frame as well. Everything that Apple has learned about touchscreen software and consumer interaction from the iPhone could easily be applied to a larger device.

Of course, we’ve been discussing such a device for a while (May of last year, as well as July of last year), but in retrospect, the hardware simply wasn’t there for Apple to do something unique and intereresting. With the NVIDIA Ion platform and Apple’s upcoming OS X 10.6, that changes everything. Apple is probably also watching Asustek very closely, given the upcoming launch of the touchscreen/Tablet PC Eee PC T91.

Apple is keenly aware that many people have been installing OS X onto various netbooks – they’ve even asked publications such as Wired Magazine to remove such instructions – it’s hard for them to ignore this phenomenon when somebody as prominent as Wired or even one of the top Mac-oriented magazines, Macworld, is discussing OS X on a netbook.

Apple also has the benefit of its experience with the App Store and with iPhone customers (and Mac developers) becoming more and more accustomed to touchscreen and multi-touch functionality. In addition to the mention above of OS X 10.6, Apple has added multi-touch functionality to the touchpad of the consumer-oriented 13.3-inch MacBook as well.

Read: DigiTimes