Is Apple still (or was it ever) in the netbook game?

Summary:Is the MacBook Air a netbook? Many say it is not, leading to questions as to whether Apple has ever dented the netbook market at all.

The MacBook Air is the jewel in the crown of Apple's ultra-light, portable notebook devices. Or is it?

The second generation MacBook Air was the size of a standard netbook, whilst remaining its immense thinness. But it sacrificed a great deal in the process.

But as new notebook-sized and laptop-sized MacBook Air's reportedly on their way out this summer, with new processors and Thunderbolt technology, one has to question whether the device is contributing anything at all to the netbook market.

While many netbook users today get along relatively well without an optical drive, one suspects that the Mac App Store will all but negate the use or need for a portable optical drive, as will the Windows Store for non-Apple netbooks.

But the MacBook Air is generally more powerful than the vast majority of netbooks on the market. Don't get me wrong; I doubt many are complaining over this.

MacBook Air's have been relatively popular, with over 1.1 million units bought in the last quarter of 2010, accounting for 40% of Apple's netbook business.

But the non-Apple netbooks saw huge sales in comparison to the MacBook Air, even though the iPad dented netbook sales

Maybe Apple's tablet venture is masking seemingly poor MacBook Air sales?

The debate isn't necessarily whether the 11-inch MacBook Air is a netbook or not. Some say outright that "no, it is not a netbook" whereas the size and lesser power than its larger and more expensive 13-inch counterpart would indicate that indeed it was of 'netbook specification'.

So what makes a netbook?

I would argue that a netbook is quite simply in combination of a smaller size, roughly around 11-inches in screen size, and with lesser memory and functionality to that of a fully-fledged laptop, and a significantly cheaper price to that of its desktop or laptop counterpart.

The MacBook Air is nearly three times the price of an average netbook, absent of an optical drive and less powerful than its 13-inch 'better' model. The cost, however, could be attributed to the solid-state hard drive which by very nature costs disproportionately more than its non-solid state competitor.

If you want a Mac, but can't afford the full-brunt force of the Apple cash hungry machine, a netbook-sized 11-inch MacBook Air seems a wise compromise.

But as Apple clearly has not made a device to netbook specification -- most notably on price regarding its only netbook-like device, the MacBook Air, Apple arguably has never been in the netbook game.

At least it gives the company something else to focus on. It still has an entire segment of the market to crack: the netbook segment.

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Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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