Why Apple will have to release a netbook

Apple's underwhelming refresh of its Mac desktop line shows just why the company needs to release a netbook. The company seems oblivious to the economy crashing around it, and continues to believe that it can thrive by selling champagne-priced computers in a beer-priced world. It's time for Apple to face reality and build a netbook.

Apple's sales are tanking, along with its stock price. As Greg Keizer notes in a Computerworld article, people are buying lower-priced computers, and forgoing expensive Macs.

Keizer's article notes this:

According to ChangeWave Research, 27% of the U.S. consumers surveyed who said that they plan to buy a laptop in the next 90 days said that their new purchase would be a Mac. Apple's slice of the increasingly shrinking pool of buyers was down 6 percentage points from a similar survey done by ChangeWave in November 2008.

"[That's] our weakest visibility reading for Apple laptops in nearly two years," said Paul Carton, ChangeWave's research director.

The article quotes other bleak sales figures for Apple --- all because of its high-priced hardware. And netbooks are clearly hurting Apple badly. The article says:

ChangeWave's latest survey, conducted from Jan. 5 to 12 with nearly 3,500 U.S. consumers, found that almost one in five laptop buyers (19%) said they had purchased a netbook in the past three months. About one in seven (14%) of future notebook buyers said they planned to pick up a netbook in the next 90 days.

Despite this, Apple continues to sell high-priced hardware, and ignore netbooks. Microsoft, by way of contrast, has finally recgonized that netbooks are here to stay, and has begun a multiple-pronged strategy to take advantage of them. As I've recently written, Windows now has a 90% share of new netbook sales, effectively killing Linux as a serious desktop competitor.

In addition, Microsoft designed Windows 7 to run well on netbooks. And just recently, the company also announced that it is developing a netbook-version of Office. It's mum on what that means, but expect it to be very low-priced, or possibly ad-supported and free.

Apple would do well to learn from Microsoft here, and take advantage of the netbook market. After all, Microsoft has taken quite a bit from Apple over the years --- Apple should now return the favor and target netbooks.

Update: The rumor mill has it that such a netbook will ship in the third quarter of this year. For details, check out my blog post, "Report: Apple netbook to ship by the third quarter."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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