The Wall Street Journal ran an article this weekend explaining that while Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been on medical leave for the past few months, he’s still taking an active role in some projects at the company — including Apple’s upcoming  “portable device that is smaller than its current laptop computers but bigger than the iPhone or iPod Touch.”

There’ve been hints for months that Apple is working on something that would fit this description. But it’s not clear whether we’re talking about a touchscreen tablet without a keyboard, (which might be something like an oversized iPod Touch), or a miniature version of a Macbook (which a lot of people would probably decide to call a netbook no matter how much it cost).

My guess is that Apple will do what it’s always done here: Stand back and see what other companies are offering and then build a high quality version that’s stylish and easy to use. Apple wasn’t the first company to develop an MP3 player, but the iPod and iTunes changed the way that people think about digital music. If you were going to design an Apple netbook, what would it look like? Would it run OS X, have an iPhone-like interface, or something else altogether? How would you differentiate it from Apple’s higher end machines so that people felt a need to buy both one of these mystery devices and a MacBook?

And perhaps most importantly, if Apple puts out some sort of laptop or tablet with a 10 inch display, how much would you be willing to pay for it before deciding you’d rather just save money and buy a cheap Windows netbook or spend a bit more and get a full sized Apple laptop?

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13 replies on “WSJ fans flames of Apple netbook rumors”

  1. I’ve had a 12″G4 Powerbook for years. Works great. Not big. Bit heavy. It still runs the latest OS X, and all the software I need. Open it up, share my current working files to it, and away I go.

    Were Apple to build a 10″ smaller lighter version, I’d buy. $800 to $1000? Absolutely. My Powerbook is getting old, and the screen isn’t as bright as it was.

    My bet is there will be a giant TouchPodPad. I’d still like to see a small lightweight “real” OS X machine I could carry around. If a gadget won’t create and open encrypted DMG files and encrypted SparseBundles, I sure can’t afford to take it on the road and risk exposing client’s private info.

  2. I’m quite happy with my Linux-based Aspire One, but it’s in fact a piece of cheap plastic. If Apple would build something thin, metal with a full OS X, it could start pricing there where netbooks normally end (Eee S101, for example) and it would still be worth the price. PC-users who never owned a Mac are not aware what crappy pieces of hardware they use. Aplle tax? Worth every penny.

  3. If it does not run a full OSX and it does not have a keyboard, I don’t want it. I use a Dell Mini 9 with OSX but if I can get the Apple quality product I would consider it.

    If you buy the Dell I have new from the manufacturer with the webcam, bluetooth and 2GB RAM, that costs you $375. Then you need to buy a 64GB SSD. A Decent one will run you around $300 today (though once the US seller restocks it could go down to $220, but lets stick to $300). So that is $675. (Dell discontinued 64GB upgrades on these, at least for now.) Add OSX+iLife and you are up there in the $800 range.

    Granted, if you deal hunt, you can probably snag this exact configuration refurbished for under $400 (with the little slower 64GB SSD Dell used to ship it with). So, say $500 with software. I didn’t pay full price for mine either and I am hunting for one of these deals as we speak. (Mine has no bluetooth, no webcam, no 64GB SSD so I have to run OSX from an external, etc.)

    Also, I do not believe Apple could conceivably release a netbook with the N270/N280 CPU. They would need at least two cores (mobile version of the N330 – N370?? or N380?) and a little more umph would not hurt either. (It is also possible that I am full of it and my slow external SSD causes all the slowness in my hackintosh). I also assume they would release it with the nVidia ION chipset so add that to the cost as well. (Finally, if this thing will run OSX, I assume they’ll wait for Snow Leopard as this low powered machine needs all the power it can get, so if it can efficiently use the ION and the multiple cores, they’ll need that to produce a decent user experience.)

    Add apple quality and I would be perfectly happy with the $799 price tag and would consider $899 (though at $999 for a refurb 1st generation Air, it is tough competition). If take make it look like what that Russian newspaper showed (basically a 10 inch Air), I think they could squeeze $999 out of their customers, especially if they discontinue the plastic Macbook. (So the entire line can be extremely environment friendly with the unified aluminum look. etc.)

    What throws me is the touch screen. No, I absolutely don’t want my fingerprints on the screen I work on. So I wonder if this all will play out as I have laid out over here (ie. the way I hope it would play out.)

  4. Good article, and good questions. For price, I’d say $599.00 is about as high as Apple should go.

    The OS question is a real puzzler. I don’t think Apple will launch yet another version of OS X. Right now they have the iPhone version, the Mac version and the Mac TV version of the OS.

    It would be easy to connect via cell phone networks, and probably touch screen. Those are two ways Apple could justify the higher cost.

  5. I’m sure plenty of iSheep will pay twice the going rate to have an official glowing apple on the back of their otherwise exactly the same as everyone else’s netbook. But more fools them; more than ever, it really doesn’t matter what brand/spec a netbook is so long as it’s got decent battery life and connectivity, a screen you can read, a keyboard you can type on and the ability to run a standards-compliant browser.

  6. I’m leaning towards the idea of an oversized iPod Touch. There’s no question that a keyboard + trackpad will make it a netbook/laptop. And removing it and making the entire thing a touchscreen will probably give it that “Apple sheen” justifying a higher price point.

    With the shift towards multi-touch-everything and the huge success of the AppStore, it almost makes sense that Apple would leverage these things and become some sort of half-tablet-half-netbook-half-alligator-shark-man of a thing, where everything is done over wifi (and maybe 3G to stick it to the Kindle).

  7. i’m interested in netbooks specifically so i can stop using apple’s garbage. but that’s just my situation.

  8. A product suggestion for Apple:
    Sell an iOpenMac – < 12inch screen – high quality – modest performance – high cost.
    Justify that high cost by:
    Bundled with this machine, a "three install" MacOSx disk *without* the "Apple hardware
    only" restriction in the license.
    Comes with 3 asymmetric (public/private) key dongles to keep the purchaser honest.

    That goes to justifying the high price of the iOpenMac (the 3 install, reusable license) –
    It lets the buyer experience OSx on there "off brand" or "older" hardware –
    (with the intent of getting them to "Buy Apple" when it comes time to replace).

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