Apple netbooks at Macworld? Magic 8-Ball says...

In Wednesday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches bloggers chatter about future Mac netbooks -- thoughtful triangulation or wishful thinking? Reply hazy, try again. Not to mention some better ways to throw shoes...

Gregg Keizer has been pumping his sources:

Apple logo
Apple Inc. will introduce two netbooks at the MacWorld Conference and Expo next month that will be tied to the company's App Store, as is its iPhone, an analyst said today.
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Citing evidence that included the gloomy economy, climbing sales of the least-expensive laptops and comments CEO Steve Jobs made in October, [Ezra Gottheil] said Apple would show a pair of netbooks at January's conference, then as it did two years before with the iPhone, put it on the market midyear.
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Unlike other computer makers, Apple has avoided the bottom of the market, leaving it vulnerable as $300-$400 netbook sales have surged. The problem with producing a netbook... [is] the risk of cannibalizing sales of its higher-priced, and higher-margin, notebooks..
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John Paczkowski adds:

Perhaps Macworld Expo 2009 will have its “one more thing” after all ... I know Gottheil’s the guy who said “Apple doesn’t need Jobs anymore”–blasphemy! But the scenario he lays out above makes quite a bit of sense.
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If such a device is indeed uncrated at Macworld, Gottheil expects it will arrive at market around midyear at prices beginning at $599–$99 more than the $500 computer Apple CEO Steve Jobs claims the company doesn’t know how to make.
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But Harry McCracken translateifies:

In my more cynical moments, I’ve sometimes contended that analysts don’t know anything we technology journalists don’t–it’s just that they get paid (a lot) more for their opinions, and people take them more seriously. I was reminded of this stance when I read a Computerworld story today.
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“Will” is a pretty definitive word–at least a lot more so than “could” or “might” or “should.” But it turns out that Gottheil doesn’t know whether Apple is going to release netbooks. He doesn’t even have any inside scuttlebutt like rumors of parts spotted at an Asian factory or gossip that Apple has placed a humongous order for 10-inch screens. He just used “triangulation,” which is a fancy word for “guessed.”
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While countless pundits have declared that Apple will prove unable to resist the temptation to go cheap, the company seems quite capable of bypassing the bargain bin. Actually, it’s a core component of its business strategy.
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We overhear Steve O'Hear:

It’s not very often that I find myself agreeing with a likely overpaid analyst, especially one who admits that they have no “inside information”, but I think [Gottheil] could be onto something ... Roll on Macworld :-)
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  • An Apple Netbook is a necessary product in what looks like it will be a very deep recession ...
  • By offering a device that runs a significantly cut-down version of OSX ... an Apple Netbook won’t cannibalize existing sales ...
  • The third-party ecosystem would be tightly controlled ... ensuring ... [a] share in revenue.
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Warner Crocker is fascinated:

That is an interesting proposition, which if it came to be ... could change the dynamics of the crazy Netbook scene. Think about it for a second. Netbooks are meant for low overhead Internet computing. Tie in applications and services (where you control the distribution outlet) and the low margins on the hardware could yield better margins overall on the software. Would we see others follow suit with similar App store approaches? (Can you say Google Android?)

Who knows. The jury would also be out on whether customers would be content with Apple’s silo approach on this kind of device, the way they appear to be with the iPhone.

But then there is that other elephant in the room that is just getting started: Android.
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Tom Reestman begs to differ:

While it’s possible to imagine someone thinking a netbook is “as good” as a cheap laptop, I don’t imagine any user thinking the same when comparing a netbook and a low-end white MacBook. No way. They’re worlds apart. I believe any user allegedly buying a netbook instead of a MacBook was never getting the Mac anyway. Apple knows this. If they get in this game, it will be with a complete product — more expensive than most netbooks — from which they’ll make a reasonable profit and not have to hope for up-selling.
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What if, instead of cannibalization, the netbook has actually created a new category of buyer? Someone who wouldn’t spend $700 on a PC but will spend up to $500. If so, then the PC industry has two razor-thin-margin products. I’m not sure how this is supposed to be a Good Thing™ for them. The PC netbook could be the hardware equivalent of Facebook: millions of users and no way to make money.

This is going to be fun to watch.
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Stowe Boyd thinks it through:

It is clear that the econolypse has started to hit Apple's sales of Macs based on Novembers drop. So perhaps the stars are aligned to motivate Apple to move into the hot market for Netbooks. But is it a cannibalization of laptops, just at a lower margin?
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What if Apple made a Netbook that was much more like the iPhone, but with a keyboard and no touchscreen? Larger, but much smaller than a MacBook, say an 8 inch screen. A more closed architecture, where apps would have to be downloaded from the Apple Store?
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Could work.
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And finally...

Buffer overflow:

Other Computerworld bloggers:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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