Apple's Dilemma – Netbook, Tablet or Bigger iPod Touch?
by Idris Mootee
Apple has a dilemma, should they put out products to push Apple towards the mass to appeal to Window users or pushing the innovating envelope on products that their loyal followers really want, or need? Netbook sales is growing fast particularly in Asia and prices have dropped to US$150 to $250. Meanwhile, Microsoft has said that it would rather not use the Netbook name any more, choosing “low-cost small notebook PC” instead. It is easy to see why.
How many years since Apple fans have been begging for a mid-sized, mid-priced upgradeable Mac Pro? How long have Apple fans have been asking for a small footprint $650 range entry Macbook? How long Apple fans have been asking for a $1600 range tablet that works like a big iPod touch? All these things will not likely to happen, at least not too soon.
Apple will continue to exercise its brand power and design as a tax for those loyal customers. The only time they might attempt at a low cost strategy is probably at the education market. Apple will continue to test the upward limits on how much we can tolerate the Apple premium. I think this strategy is working for them.
It is unlikely that Apple will release a Netbook and instead they might enter with something different. Netbook is a really a low cost pursuit of a mini laptop. On the other hand with the massive popularity of Netbooks particularly in the high school segment, do they want to lose out to these very important customers of the future? 5-6 years from now many of these young adults will become part of Apple’s core customer segment. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Apple to offer a Netbook killer at this critical junction so they get as many people using Apple products as possible?
This is Apple’s dilemma. But they are covering future options. The US Patent and Trademark Office has just officially published a series of nine newly granted patents for Apple. The most interesting one is the one that covers an Ink Phase Termination Engine that supports Apple’s Inkwell technology and a future Tablet device supporting handwriting applications. The evidence for Apple’s interest for an Apple based Smartbook-Tablet hybrid device is apparent.
Apple’s granted patent generally relates to an ink manager for acquiring and organizing pen-based ink information for use by pen-aware and other applications. Although the current iPhone is dependent upon using your finger as the input stylus, a future larger tablet could in fact accommodate a stylus or pen-based input system as well so as to address both handwriting and drawing applications. Such a system would be able to tap into Apple’s Inkwell application that is noted a as a key technology under OS X Snow Leopard. The illustration filed shows us that the tablet could provide a series of horizontal lines to assist users align their handwriting. Various control buttons could provide commands for scrolling purposes or to call up any apps.
Apple’s working concept of a Smartbook-Tablet Hybrid was illustrated in a series of three patents covering gestures, scrolling and Synchronization. When you combine Apple’s granted patent 7,564,995 published this week with a more current 2008 patent revealing a tablet-smartbook hybrid, it becomes clear that Apple is seriously contemplating a move into the smartbook market.
The key question with the tablet device is that what does it replace (if it replaces anything at all)? We have the iPhone or iTouch or Blackberry for email and we usually have a laptop, why do we need a tablet? You’re still going to need a real computer and a cell phone to get things done or for lounging-around-consuming-junk-media. And real laptops are only going to get lighter and thinner, why do we need a tablet? There are now multiple rspeculation that an Apple tablet would be essentially an oversize iPod Touch, and will cost somewhere between a $299 iPhone/iPod Touch and the $999 MacBook. We’ll find out very soon.
See also: “Apple Tablet or iPhone Accessory?”
Idris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.