There’s a big, unfilled hole in Apple’s OS X product line of portable devices. At the low end is the iPod touch (to a lesser extent, the iPhone). At the high end is the MacBook Pro. Between the two is a lonely, aging, white polycarbonate MacBook. What’s missing? What would fill the obvious gap? A new MacBook? A Mac netbook? Or, something else? Something different? An iPad?
The hole that exists at the low end of the MacBook line is obvious. Apple recently upgraded the aluminum MacBooks to Pro status, lowered the price, added a few features, and promptly had trouble meeting demand.
The iPhone and iPod touch sit together at the other end of Apple’s portable device line, nearly $800 minimum from the least expensive MacBook.
Does Apple need a product to sit between the handhelds and the notebooks?
Apple does an excellent job separating products in each line. iPods start at a mere $79 with the shuffle, and rise to almost $400 with the high end iPod touch. In between there’s barely $50 between various models, which makes it easier for buyers to migrate from a lower priced model to a higher priced model.
The MacBook line of notebooks works the same way. The polycarbonate model begins at $999 and ranges to $2,499 for the 17-inch flagship MacBook Pro. Between the models, there’s barely a $200 price difference.
But a notebook is an entirely different beast than Apple’s handheld models, the iPod touch and iPhone. There’s both a product and a price gap between Apple’s two lines of portable devices.
Apple thinks different, yes. It’s easy to argue that neither the iPhone/iPod touch line nor the MacBook line has received anything revolutionary in years. Aluminum case? LED backlit screens? MagSafe power connector?
These are evolutionary changes, as is the upgraded CPU and graphics of the iPhone, which will eventually show up in the iPod touch line.
Where’s the revolutionary next great thing? If it exists at all it must be a portable device that fits between the iPhone/iPod touch line, and the MacBook notebooks.
Will Apple simply develop, manufacture, and market a less expensive MacBook? That’s evolutionary. Not revolutionary. Any lower priced full featured MacBook priced between $600 and $1,000 will cannibalize sales of the popular 13-inch MacBook Pro models.
Apple has enjoyed great sales success in recent years by selling multiple products to their loyal customer base. Mac users also buy iPods. Mac users also buy iPhones. Some of us have all three (four, if you count the iPod, iPhone, MacBook Pro, and a desktop iMac).
Why would Apple create a product that competes head on with current products? The answer is easy. They won’t.
Behind Door #3
This product hole is so obvious, and so ripe for exploitation, that it makes complete sense. Apple’s next product line will be a MacBook.
The new MacBook won’t be a stripped down plastic MacBook Pro minus all the extra hardware features of the more expensive models. I’m convinced that the new MacBook will be a pad, a slim, touch screen portable device, larger than the iPhone, but much smaller than the current MacBooks.
The list: thinner than a MacBook Air, 10-inch multi-touch screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, on-screen touch keyboard or optional wireless keyboard and mouse, without CD/DVD player, and a couple of USB ports. That’s it.
One more thing. Yes, it will run OS X. All of them. Mac OS X and iPhone OS X. The new MacBook will be a hybrid portable device; perfect for schools and the living room, and, to a limited extent, lightweight road warriors.
Any Apple device that runs Mac OS X apps and utilities, as well as everything available from the iTunes App Store, and priced less than a MacBook Pro, will be popular, yet not cannibalize sales from the high end or low end of Apple’s line.
This is Apple’s product ecosystem; the end to end lineup of devices, applications, media, utilities, games. The traditional MacBook Pro and iMac models at the high end, the iPod touch and iPhone at the low end, and the MacBook cum-iPad portable device in the middle.
Add a model with AT&T’s 3G network already attached, and stick a $299 starting price tag on it, and Apple may well demolish the nascent netbook PC market.