Pundits have been insisting for months that Apple has to produce a netbook. At a time when overall computer sales are shrinking, netbook shipments are growing. Budget machines look awfully attractive in the midst of a recession. But Apple has never been known for making budget machines. In fact, quite the opposite. And so those pundits have been predicting that Apple stands to lose a whole lot of money if it doesn’t produce something that appeals to the same price-conscious shoppers that have been picking up netbooks in droves.

I’ve remained skeptical. After all, Apple customers have shown time and again that they’re more interested in quality than price point. They’ve been willing to pay for hardware and software that they see as superior. If Apple starts making cheap machines now and customers are happy with them, it might be hard to go back to charging premium prices down the road.

But that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t working on a netbook. I’m just going to predict that if and when we see an Apple product with a 10 inch display, it’s going to offer limited functionality. And that’s not because you can’t run a full version of OS X on a small machine with a slow processor. We’ve already seen that you can. It’s because Apple won’t want you to think of its netbook (or Macbook Mini, or iNetbook or whatever Apple will call it) as an alternative to a MacBook, but rather as a complement.

OK, now that I’ve got that out of my system, here’s today’s rumor (based on a bit of a game of telephone). DigiTimes reports that Commercial Times is reporting that Taiwanese company Wintek is producing touch panels for Apple. As if that wasn’t vague enough for you, Wintek says it’s not sure what those panels will be used for. But apparently Commercial Times reports that Apple has tapped Quanta to build a netbook. The Wintek touch panels will ship in the second half of 2009, which means we could see an Apple netbook, tablet, or something else before the end of the year.

Update: The Dow Jones Newswire has confirmed the information from DigiTimes, and reports that the laptops will likely have screens between 9.7 and 10 inches in size.

via Eee PC.net

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21 replies on “Is Apple working on a touchscreen netbook for 2009?”

  1. I’ve still got my newton and 2 emates. We know what Apple can do (yes, those were non-Jobsian technologies). The Macbook Air is an example of a high end ‘second machine’ which supports the notion of apple not wanting to replace the other main machines/laptops. So, this news about the touch screen apple fits in with the trajectory of needing something netbookesque that meets between the Air and the iPod Touch/iPhone. I miss my newton, and look forward to getting back something similar. And then I can use VNC to run my office boxes. Wheee!

  2. The real question for Apple is how to make a netbook that exactly fits in between (features, price and performance) the iPhone/iPod and a MacBook.

  3. Well, I don’t see how they know that the machine will be netbook priced. It could well be for a machine costing more than $1000. That would make it netbook siuzed but not netbook priced. It would be more like an old style UMPC than a netbook.

    The second alternative of course as you mention is to lock and limit it in every way possible, and market it as a step up in power from the iphone, if not as portable. I wouldn’t buy the concept (or the machine) but plenty of people would. This is Apple after all.

    1. how about a super-sized ipod Touch?

      you can already do most things people do with netbooks (surf the net). add in better document editing facilities (and FINALLY a copy-cut-paste function!!!) with a bigger screen and you’d be good-to-go with a netbook done different.

      how good would a thin, hi-res 7″, multi-touch Touch be? more like a portable ideas pad or clip board… so easy to cart around with you all day. Mmmmm. A slide out keyboard or bluetooth one would really help too for those doing lots of typing. i just want something big enough you could read books and manuals on easily. we might finally see a real ebook reader 🙂

      1. You are right that it will be a step up from the ipod touch. But the ipod touch has minimal mindshare and recognition, so it will be probably marketed as a step up from the iphone. It will probably have embedded 3G instead of using a dongle (a weak point in todays netbooks) and Apple will make a big deal out of it, linking it to the iphone. It may even be capable of phone calls, as it will have the hardware needed.

        Now for the interesting bit, for me. You mention two apps that make would make this a great buy for you (ebook reader, light word processor). There are hundreds more, for many people. Now the only thing “done different”(ly) that I see that you would have to go through the Apple store, giving Apple its cut. And they would be able to veto any app that would compete with their bigger machines. Otherwise it would be a regular netbook, as far as I can tell, altough the build quality would be high like all Apple products.

  4. Apple will follow Sony and put out a $999.95 netbook…which will make it not really a netbook.

    1. I completely agree with this assessment though I suspect the price range will be from 700 to 900 USD rather. Here is what I expect:

      – 10″ tablet using a Pixel Qi screen
      – Will run a modified version of the iPhone OS not OS X. OS X simply isn’t built for touch
      – Will probably use a processor of Apple’s own design from their buyout of PA Semi, posslby with an integrated GPU from their nVidia buddies.
      – Non-removable battery
      – Multitouch with some form of haptic feedback
      – Apple will call into use their recent handwriting acquisitions as the primary means of input for this device with an alternative OSKB

      The sad thing is that I was thinking about building a very similar device myself but I clearly don’t have Apple’s resources. =(

      1. as an EDIT to my above:

        “processor of their own design” should read processor of their own make based on the ARM architecture.

        1. “modified version of the iPhone OS not OS X”

          And the iPhone runs … a modified version of OS X.

  5. Apple will go in one of two directions… FIrst of all I I agree with an earlier poster that Apple will never call it a netbook because that implies that they were “late tot he party” and Apple wants to be seen as an innovator. But everybody, yeah they did miss the boat on this one. So how do they catch up? One of two ways:

    1. Offer a cheap device is small (10″ or less) that can operate on its own in OS/X and also charge an iphone and act as an external speaker and screen extender. Tying it into the iPhone would allow them to package it as a mobility device rather than a netbook.

    2. Package the unit as a tiny Macbook Air so it appears to be just a smaller less powerful version of the popular thin Air series of laptops. Of course they would have to charge at least $600 for the device so it appears as if it is a head and shoulders above the netbook crowd.

    But Apple will never jump on the bandwagon. They just don’t do that. Thats one of the reasons I like PC’s. If you want to use an analogy its like two different types of girls. One girl is low-maintenance and will adapt to the person and situation (a PC) and the other girl is high-maintenance and has too much PRIDE to ever admit shes wrong (Apple).

  6. if i had to guess i’d reckon they would make a device maybe $100 either side of thier cheapest macbook. you’d lose features but gain portability.

    if i could get a macbook with a proper touchpad and not the new multitouch i’d seriously thing about buying it.

    if i could get a macbook with a trackpoint (ibm thinkpad mouse dohickey) i’d buy one without a moments hesitation.

    just not a fan of multitouch. i like buttons.

    disclaimer. i have drunk deeply of the koolaid and have a ipod classic, iphone and my main home pc is a mac mini. keep thinking of buying a macbook but i hate the touchpad no button combo on the new ones. most likely this will put me off the netbook that mac releases.

    1. “… but i hate the touchpad no button combo …”

      you could always just plug in a small USB mouse 🙂

      most laptops having shocking control surfaces for serious graphics work. I always find a small mouse much easier to use. doens’t take up that much space to take on with you given the productivity push.

      i actually think Sony got their device right (if not the price!!!). use the nipple device to casually navigate with and then plug in a mouse for times you need something better. makes for a smaller device when you don’t have to whack in a trackpad.

      1. good sugestion but not for me unfortunately. using a laptop on your lap doesn’t make a mouse too easy. 🙁 the original hp omnibook had a stick out 3d mouse that was interesting but disappeared never to be seen again. thought of a trackball (strap it to my leg or something) but most i have seen are just too big. the mini usb mice i find too small and fiddly. got one for my brother who uses an old netbook of mine. gave it a go and it was too small.

        i hate carrying around extra hardware that will only be useful in some places and not in others. it just annoys me that there us a functional solution the trackpoint and yet the hardware i want will never have one.

        wouldn’t it be nice in this day and age to be able to have a standard slot on the front of laptops/netbooks into which you could slide the keyboard/touchpad/mouse/trackball/trackpoint of your choice? might make for a thicker/unsexier laptop/netbook but it would appeal to those keyboard junkies who will reject your laptop/netbook on keyboard alone. i know a few folks programmers mostly who will not buy hardware because of the keyboard of otherwise perfect machines. its a small minority but planetwide that could still be a lot of laptop sales.

  7. I’m curious which segment they’d go after. The true netbook segment (<$500) is extremely crowded, and Apple doesn't do cheap anyway. They'd be crazy to go after Flybook, because I don't think even an Apple fan would throw down $3k for a baby laptop, regardless of the featureset. That would leave the Viao P as its competitor, which is what I would guess would be their target (high-quality, feature-laden sub-notebook in the $1000-$1500 range)

  8. > If Apple starts making cheap machines now and customers are happy with them, it might be hard to go back to charging premium prices down the road.

    But look at Apple’s experience with the iPod and iPhone. What Apple does is introduce a higher cost item at first, followed by an array of price points down to the low end. There’s no reason to think they won’t do the same thing again with a netbook like device that leverages the iPhone app economy.

    > Apple won’t want you to think of its netbook (or Macbook Mini, or iNetbook or whatever Apple will call it) as an alternative to a MacBook, but rather as a complement.

    The MacBook is an alternative to the desktop Mac. Apple doesn’t have a problem with that. Nobody makes the argument anymore “Why get into notebooks? You’ll cannibalize your desktop business!”

    The iPod Touch and iPhone are clearly alternatives to lugging a MacBook around. If Apple had a problem with that, it wouldn’t have created a massive market for iPhone/iPod Touch developers.

    People also argued that Apple would never come out with a stripped-down Mac because it would cannibalize their iMac, MacBook and tower business. In fact, the Mac Mini has been a hit for the last several years, and Apple has just introduced new versions with speedier guts.

    A netbook like device that builds on the iPod Touch/iPhone architecture will fit in fine with Apple.

    I expect it to to eventually replace the Mac, just as the Mac replaced the Apple II.

  9. It would be more interesting if we knew what size the touchscreens were.

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