During an earnings call today, Apple COO tim Cook took a moment to address a question that’s been asked a lot over the last few months: What does Apple think of the netbook market? Cook’s response was that Apple is watching that space, but that the produces are “based on hardware that’s much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays.” Summing up, he said Apple doubts people will “be pleased with those type of products.”
The comments should hardly be surprising. After all, Steve Jobs said essentially the same thing back in October. But given all the pre-MacWorld buzz about the possibility of a MacBook Mini, I’m sure Apple’s continued commitment to not releasing a cheap ultraportable will come as a disappointment to some.
Of course, if Cook was right about customer dissatisfaction with netbooks, you wouldn’t know it by sales figures. Low cost mini-laptops are the fastest growing segment of the laptop computer market. According to a recent Gartner report, PC shipments were up during the fourth quarter of 2008, which is pretty impressive during a recession. But revenue from PC sales was down. Know why? Because a large number of those PCs that are shipping are low cost ultraportables.
And that’s a large part of the reason why Apple doesn’t want to jump into the netbook game right now. Because Apple sells pricey computers. The cheapest MacBook sells for $999. If companies like Dell, HP, and Lenovo, which make a wide range of laptops with a wide range of prices are worried about netbooks cannibalizing the sales of premium products, how must Apple feel? The company only sells premium products.
There may come a time when demand for mini-laptops that weigh less than 3 pounds is so great that Apple will feel the need to produce something like a smaller MacBook Air. But I’m betting it will be priced more like the Sony Vaio P than the Acer Aspire One.
I’m not sure it makes much business sense for the company to slap OS X on a $500 device unless Apple is certain that it can sell a lot of netbooks to brand new customers thus expanding the company’s customer base or convince a lot of MacBook Pro owners that they need a portable companions. Because if it can’t, Apple would probably be cannibalizing the sales of more expensive Mac products.