So About These MacBook Announcements…

Apple Netbook The MacBook Pro will always have a special place in my tech treasure chest.  Strangely, it was the first Mac I purchased (in 2001 – back then we called ‘em PowerBooks.)  And for a long time I thought that’s where my computing dollar would be spent: continuously upgrading from MacBook Pro to MacBook Pro.  Perhaps I wouldn’t upgrade each year, but I’d certainly get in on major revisions and every other cycle.  And strangely enough this would be the cycle that would make sense.  (I bought my MacBook Pro in 2006.  I’m loving it, but somehow it’s really starting to show it’s age.  My backspace key is missing.  It’s got a few scratches.  And since it’s the primary machine that I use (right in front of my television) it would certainly make sense.  But that was with a 2006 mindset.  A lot has changed in the world.

I wrote about a year back about how excited I was that the industry was moving towards these small and inexpensive desktop experiences.  The newly coined ‘netbooks’ are getting old in the tooth according to some.  But I think they’re just about the most exciting thing in technology.  Why?  Well, for one, the conventional wisdom (if you spent time in a Best Buy or J&R Computer World here in Manhattan over the years) is that the smaller the laptop you seek, the more you’re going to pay.  It used to make sense.  (Smaller diodes, more careful manufacturing process, more expensive and hard-to-manufacture parts.)  But something about that logic never completely made sense to me.  So the netbook’s arrival as a major new tech category was a welcome trend.

The main reason why I’m so excited about the prospect of the netbook as a serious option is that it fits in with my life (and I would presume most consumer’s lives) perfectly.  I always get frustrated when people ask my about buying a laptop vs. a desktop.  People never consider the higher cost and lower performance that you’ll get in comparison to the actual amount of times that the machine will actually be moved.  I’m the ‘computer fix-it guy’ for a lot of my friends and some acquaintances and I’ll tell you – they get strange looks from me when they approach me with a Dell Inspiron and complain that it’s ‘making a noise’.  (Probably just the hard drive, but if it isn’t, they’re SOL for sure.)  For the majority of folks that I consult, a netbook is a wonderfully elegant solution for so many reasons:

  • It’s cheap – In this down-market, who wants to spend top dollar on a PC just because it’s portable.
  • It’s SUPER portable – When I was testing an ASUS eeePC, I would have it in my bag and not even remember that it was there.  It’s just that small.  When I ask those I consult why they want a laptop, usually the canned answer is, “because I might wanna take it someplace.”  Well, this is a machine that is truly portable. 
  • Less theft worry – It has to be a RARE occasion for me to take my MacBook Pro outside.  Not just because it’s expensive and has all of my data.  But because it’s kinda heavy.  But even if it was a MacBook Air sized machine, who wants the worry?  I would have a heart attack on the spot if my MacBook Pro was stolen or if I left it someplace.  Are you really worrying if you lose a $300 – $500 netbook?  (Well, ok…but not as much as you would a full sized notebook.)
  • Who needs the power?!! – I kinda chuckle when I’m perusing the gadgets in Best Buy and hear some guy in a blue shirt upselling a family on a higher powered PC or laptop.  Outside of the need to run Windows Vista, who is using all of this computing power?!!  The last I checked, most of the world was either watching YouTube or Hulu, browsing the web, reading e-mail and playing low powered PopCap games.  Sure, there are folks who play WOW or other dedicated video card-worthy games.  But machines that can run these apps are for the enthusiast crowd anyhow.  80% of the world is just doing the basic stuff.  Hell, I’m an enthusiast and I can wait to get home and play games.
  • Did I mention that it’s cheap?!!!

And with this in mind, I looked eagerly ahead to the Apple announcements today.  I was dreaming of what we might get for the past week.  And at the center of that dream was a lower cost entry laptop.  Well, the excitement is over.  We got new MacBook Pros ($1999 and up) a new MacBook ($1299 and up) a lower cost old Macbook ($999) an updated MacBook Air ($1799 and up) and a 24” LED-based Apple Cinema Display.

So the question is, am I excited?  Well, kinda.  It’s good to see these evolutionary strides in making the MacBook Pro an even more attractive laptop with an LED display, innovative trackpad, better overall ergonomic design, a higher performance video card and the new MacBook-style keyboard.  But sadly, this isn’t enough to get me going.  Did I want more?  Well, no – I didn’t want the BluRay drive and I’m not upset about the glass screen like everyone else.  But I must say that I think Apple is certainly missing something here.

Don’t get me wrong.  I completely understand the fact that Apple considers themselves the Mercedes of the PC market.  And sometimes that means setting a premium even above what would be considered a reasonable margin against the cost of the device.  But the fact remains that all of the trends are pointing away from high cost PCs.

I don’t know if Apple is going to sell as many of the MacBook Pros as they think they will.  When you consider the fact that an equally powered iMac with a 20” screen is $1199, I just don’t see how I could justify $1999 for a mobile machine.  If I were a student, or if I needed a laptop for work via commute (and my employer let me choose what I want), perhaps then I’d go with a MacBook Pro.  But the truth is that even I don’t need this kind of power for what I’m doing now.  Sure, it’s nice to have it.  But for the cost, I’d just as soon rather have a $599 – 799 Apple netbook.

I mean, sure, I understand why they’re not doing a netbook.  They probably perceive this as cheapening the entry point, foregoing sales of the MacBook and especially MacBook Pro.  I mean, a $799 Apple netbook is just too sweet a deal compared with a $1299 Macbook or a $1999 MacBook Pro.  But what if an Apple netbook truly takes off?  What if by doing this, you can expand the OS 10.5 footprint by even more than the 10% that they are approaching of the PC market?  Isn’t that a goal worth pursuing??

So what’s the sweet spot for a person who wants portability and the best bang for their buck?  Well, for me, that’s a combination of the 20” iMac (24” if you can afford it) with Boot Camp running both OS X and Vista (just to cover all bases) and a netbook for the road.  Together for both you’re spending about $1700.  You’ve got the same experience as the MacBook at home and a much bigger screen.  Plus a laptop to take on the road.

I’m sure Apple must having something interesting up their sleeves for MacWorld in January, but they announcements don’t include a netbook (and particularly if there’s no sign of an Apple netbook by June of next year), I think this will be looked back upon as a lost opportunity.  Perhaps Apple will join the race late and do something special?  Well, that’s something only the folks at One Infinite Loop know.  As for this tech afficionado, I’ll be looking into that Dell Inspiron Mini 9.  And from the looks of things, I’ll be able to run OS X on it.

Hey – with this Inspiron Mini and a little elbow grease, maybe I will get that Mac Netbook I wanted after all?

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