This morning's news that WinTek could be building a Netbook touch screen for Apple set off another firestorm of observations about Apple and its possible curiosity in the Netbook field.
Apple already knows it doesn't have to compete on price. Its customers are used to paying a premium for superior hardware and an OS that many feel (myself included) is far better than Windows. Take for example the Sony P. It starts at $899 and goes way up from there. It is so small, however that it can fit in your (huge) Pocket or easily in a Purse. By all accounts the P line has acquired a significant following.
I don't have to tell you about the netbook Hackintosh phenomenon. This is where people go out and but a netbook and (hopefully) pay another $129 for Leopard on top of the OS they already paid for with the laptop. That usually brings the total to around $600 for the same sub-Apple quality-hardware. Dell Mini 9's, MSI Winds and EEE 1000HA's seem to be the most popular Hackintoshes. Surely these hackers would pay a few extra bucks more for a machine that is guaranteed out of the box to work optimized for OSX because it is from Apple. Of course it will be better hardware too.
Apple doesn't have to compete on price, just on functionality and size.
The new generation of netbooks are coming out with more horsepower per watt processors like the Intel Atom N280 based EEE 1000HE. As I said before, this would be a great place for Apple to start when spec'ing a machine. Apple loves to use top of the line processors for its hardware. That is another reason it can demand high premiums for its products.
Apple has another a trick up its sleeve. Along with being at the forefront of multi-touch technology (remember the report said they were touch screens), Apple also has a chip design company on its payroll. Steve Jobs said they were going to be designing chips for iPhones. It wouldn't surprise many people if they were also designing a netbook. When I talked to Bob Morris at ARM, he told me that there were going to be some Android netbooks during the middle of the year. There are a few other ARM-based systems out there including devices that will be running other flavors of Linux -- like Ubuntu and Nokia's Symbian.
But how will Apple use ARM to differentiate itself? The low wattage ARM chips allow Apple to do some exciting things. Low wattage means low battery size and weight. Expect Apple's netbook to be the thinnest (yeah Apple likes thin) yet firmest (Unibody). The ARM Cortex chips will also allow Apple to have long battery life and promote its green credentials as well.
Lower power also means Apple will likely be able to put that power in other places like making the screen a little brighter or having lit up keyboards and better speakers.
Snow Leopard has been touted as a full redesign of Leopard with the goal of being more efficient than ever before. This fits right in with a netbook. Microsoft, albeit later and to a lesser degree, also plans to do the same with Windows 7. Apple has been planning this makeover for awhile longer so they should see greater benefits. Snow Leopard is now expected to be released around June 8th - perhaps with Steve Jobs on hand.
Apple also has a good relationship with AT&T. The latest thing to hit the States (though it has been in Europe for years) is paying for a WWAN plan to subsidize your netbook. This could just be sold as an extension of the iPhone packages with AT&T or with other carriers.
If Apple can deliver on their "insanely great" vision of a netbook, they'll likely make everyone forget they were a bit late to the netbook game. We'll have to wait for Summer to find out.