Apple ‘Netbooks’, Eh?

So Computerworld has this story today regarding “analyst” Ezra Gottheil’s prediction that Apple is going to announce a $599 “netbook” at Macworld Expo next month:

“I don’t have any inside information,” said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research Inc., as he spelled out his take on Apple’s next hardware move. “This is just by triangulation.”

Citing evidence that included the gloomy economy, climbing sales of the least-expensive laptops and comments CEO Steve Jobs made in October, 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.

The tech press, lacking any actual rumors of Expo announcements other than updated Mac Minis (which I believe is true), seems to be buying Gottheil’s prediction.

I say: No way.

For one thing, I remain unconvinced that “netbooks” are an actual new category. What is the difference between a “netbook” and a “really cheap laptop that runs something other than Vista”? Yes, there is an industry trend toward small, lightweight, cheap laptops running XP or some flavor of Linux. But I see no evidence that this trend is coming at the expense of MacBook sales. Two months after fabricated rumors of an $800 MacBook, we’re now supposed to believe that Apple is going to announce a $600 one?

The whole idea is predicated on the assumption that MacBook sales are in the tank — that the economy is in the shitter and the new MacBook lineup is priced too high. But that’s only half right. The economy is in the shitter, but MacBook sales remain strong. My sources indicate that Apple did gangbuster business selling MacBooks on Black Friday, and holiday sales are strong overall. Sales of desktop Macs — Mac Pros, iMacs, and Minis — may well be down, or at best flat, year over year. But Mac laptop sales are up up up, especially the new aluminum MacBooks.

I’m not sure how Steve Jobs’s comments in October would lead one to think that Apple was preparing to launch new laptops at half the price of their new lineup. Here’s what Jobs said:

“There are some customers which we chose not to serve. We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that. But we can continue to deliver greater and greater value to those customers that we choose to serve. And there’s a lot of them.”

Yes, there is a market for $500 laptops. But Apple doesn’t need to serve this market any more than BMW needs to serve the market for $12,000 sedans. Apple may well create a product in this price range in the future — perhaps the long-rumored touchscreen tablet — but their hand is not forced.

The stupidest aspect of Gottheil’s prediction is his idea that Apple would announce such devices six months before selling them. The only reason anyone pre-announces any product is in the hope that customers will wait for it. Apple could do that with the iPhone in January 2007 because customers who chose to postpone a mobile phone purchase to wait for the iPhone were not jeopardizing sales of existing Apple mobile phones, because there were no existing Apple mobile phones. Apple is already in the business of selling laptop computers, so they do not and will not announce new ones until they are ready, or nearly ready, to sell them. Note, for example, that Apple did not pre-announce the iPod Touch, and they pre-announced the iPhone 3G by only one month.