There have been persistent rumors for the last several months that Apple is working on either a netbook, a tablet, or maybe even both. But there’s a problem: there are good reasons why neither of these models seems likely to be released.
An Apple Netbook
There have been quite a number of unconfirmed reports about Apple working on a netbook. The details on this are a bit sketchy, but these seem to be pointing at a very low-cost model running a new version of the iPhone operating system.
These rumors make a great deal of sense to me. This class of affordable, entry-level laptops are selling very well — they accounted for 10% of all PCs shipped last quarter. And the iPhone OS would give this device the two most important features any good netbook needs: an outstanding web browser and decent email software.
There are some technical hurdles to overcome, of course. A netbook needs a much higher resolution screen than a smartphone, for example, but this is something that could be handled.
I can easily see AT&T offering an Apple netbook and it selling well. For many people, an iPhone is an excellent way to retrieve their email, but not so good for typing in return messages. A larger version with a full-size QWERTY keyboard would satisfy this group.
So as far as I’m concerned, this model can come out tomorrow. Problem is, Apple doesn’t seem to agree with me. Earlier this week, the company’s chief operating officer had some very negative things to say about this class of devices.
Tim Cook said netbooks suffer from cramped keyboards, bad hardware, and poor software. “It’s a stretch to call them a personal computer,” he said. Cook went on to suggest that people considering one of these devices consider instead an iPhone or an iPod touch.
These are not the sort of comments you’d expect from a top executive at company about to release a netbook.
About the only positive spin I can put on Cook’s remarks is to suggest that he’s talking about current models from his company’s competitors. Perhaps he thinks that Apple own netbook will be free of these problems. But this feels like I’m grasping at straws.
The best job I can do reconciling Cook’s remarks with the rumors is to say that this company may be working on a low-end Mac OS X laptop that slightly resembles a netbook — small size and a 10-inch display — but this device would almost certainly sell for close to $1,000, way more than a real netbook.
Apple has missed opportunities before; It appears likely to be missing this one too.
An Apple Tablet
There has also been a rumor or two that Apple is working on a tablet PC. Like the reports of the netbook, this device is supposed to be based on the same operating system as the iPhone.
While Apple hasn’t directly commented on this product, there’s still plenty of reason to doubt its existence. Basically, it comes down to there being very, very little demand for tablet PCs.
These devices offer large screens but no keyboards. This means they have all of the disadvantages of laptops but only half the advantages. They are too big to carry around in your pocket, but when you want to enter text you still have to use an on-screen keyboard.
The real question to ask is, what can a tablet PC do better than an iPhone or a laptop/netbook? Well, they are pretty good for showing video, but mobile video is something consumers have stayed away from in droves. And it would make a decent e-book reader, but probably not as good as some as its competitors, like the Amazon Kindle 2.
I could be wrong. Apple has been very successful entering fairly weak markets — MP3 players and smartphones — and turning them into wildly successful businesses. I could do this again with a tablet PC… but I’m not betting on it.