Amid all the hoopla surrounding Mac OS X Snow Leopard and iPhone 3Gs and the newly enhanced MacBook Pro line, a few questions remain unanswered.
What happened to the MacBook? What will be the next MacBook or what will take its place? What new product does Apple have ready to replace the gaping hole in the Mac line?
What hole? Last week Apple had a MacBook line and a MacBook Pro line. This week the only MacBook is plastic. Arguably, a good deal at $999, but $200 more gets you a MacBook Pro. Aluminum is so chic and so green, you know?
Clearly, something is brewing in Cupertino. Is it a Mac netbook? A Mac tablet? A lower priced MacBook line of small notebooks (not really netbooks, not really notebooks)? Or, is it an entirely new device?
Notebooks are bread and butter for the Mac line. They’re profitable. They sell in volume. Customers love them. There wasn’t much difference between the aluminum MacBooks and the more expensive, feature-laden MacBook Pros save the screen, some horsepower, and battery life.
Apple has cleared out those differences by making the lowly MacBook a MacBook Pro, and leaving the economy minded buyer with a polycarbonate white MacBook, still priced at $1,000.
Other than price and features, the MacBook Pro line is Apple’s defacto Mac cash cow. Is the MacBook history? Or, will it be reborn as a new device, bigger than an iPod touch, smaller than the MacBook models of the past, and priced between the two?
Apple doesn’t like to regurgitate history, though the moniker MacBook is barely a few years old. If there’s a Pro line, then there must be a non-Pro line, which means smaller, fewer features, less money.
By morphing the MacBook into a Pro model, Apple sets the stage for a future product that fits between the iPhone and iPod touch, and the Pro notebook line. But what is it? A less expensive Mac notebook? A netbook? A wireless tablet Mac? What else is there?
I’ve been tempted to buy a Windows netbook. Plenty of models are available for $300 to $400 which run Windows XP. What I’ve found is that our living room iPod touch, for less money, does about as much, and without the headache of using Windows.
The iPod touch does email, web browsing, games, Google, Wikipedia, news and sports scores, and a whole lot more. There are no virus scans to worry about. No malware. The battery lasts a couple of days even during regular usage.
The only negative is a small screen and a smaller keyboard, when compared to a notebook or a netbook. Otherwise, as a netbook the iPod touch is a bargain.
What product would Apple place between the iPhone/iPod touch line and the now MacBook Pro line, and what would it be called? Assuming Apple doesn’t ditch the MacBook name, I would expect the new ‘Book to be very thing, perhaps a 10-inch screen, multi-touch of course, but with no physical keyboard.
That doesn’t mean the new MacBook would not work with a keyboard, wireless or USB, but that it would not be required. What about hard drive? Notebooks now have as much as 500 gigabyte hard drives, more than enough for most users.
PC netbooks have far less storage. How much storage does a tablet-like MacBook require? Hard drive? No. The iPod touch and iPhone go as high as 32 gigabytes, so that’s a good place to start. Camera? Yes, perfect for iSight and iChat.
Mac OS X or iPhone OS X. That’s a good question. If it’s called a MacBook doesn’t it make sense to build it with Mac OS X? But if it is called something else, say, an iPad, then iPhone OS X might be inside.
Any product that Apple builds to fit between the iPhone/iPod touch and the MacBook Pro line is a huge risk for the company. Who would be the target customer? Would Mac users buy such a device and buy a Mac and iPhone? Would this device cannibalize sales from the MacBook or the iPod touch?
The risk is obvious. Apple hasn’t had a failure for many years, and the company’s stock and mindshare are so high that any product that’s not an instant hit would be considered an instant failure, and impact both.
Short of an attempt by Apple to redefine the netbook space, Apple is more likely to create a smaller line of MacBooks, sans basic features such as SuperDrive, maybe even the hard drive, creating a thin product with long battery life, but sufficiently small, somewhat underpowered, and less capable than the MacBook Pro models.
How about a hybrid device that runs Mac OS X and iPhone OS? That would be the best of both worlds, but, again, who is the customer? Why would someone buy it?
With all those questions unanswered, all Apple can do is launch new MacBooks at a lower price point, with fewer features.