Where's Apple's 'Chromebook'? The need for a cheap Apple product

Where's Apple's 'Chromebook'? The need for a cheap Apple product

Summary: I think the Chromebook is going to give Apple a bit more competition than first assumed. Consumers, schools, and businesses are buying Chromebooks instead of more expensive devices. This could put new pressure on Apple to create a cheap device.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Software

If you own any Apple devices, it's likely that you didn't buy them at a significant discount or at a cost savings. It's obvious from Apple's earliest days that its founders didn't care much for the low cost market, but I think that's about to change and the humble Chromebook is the breaking point product.

If you compare a $1,300* Macbook Air (Air) to a $200-$300 Chromebook, there's not much to say just based on price alone. But Apple has responded with a price drop. You can now buy an 11-inch Macbook Air for $899 and a 13-inch for $999. Is a $600 to $700 difference enough money to sway Apple fans to Chromebooks? Unlikely. 

But is it enough of a difference to sway new buyers away from the Air? Yes, I think it is.

And now that users can find apps and web-enabled applications to rival their installable counterparts, I'm not sure that there's enough of a feature difference to justify the extra cost of an Air, even at the discounted price.

I bought a Mac mini that cost $800, as some of you know from my mini mini-series, when I went to buy the much-desired Air. I just couldn't justify the price at the time. I'm not sure that I still can. The mini is somewhat portable, but it's no Air or Chromebook.

But enough of the complaints about Apple's overpriced products. What should Apple do, in my humble opinion, to combat the Chromebook onslaught?

Meet the Apple Slice: The enhanced iOS notebook computer.

It has the same form factors as the Air: 11-inch and 13-inch, but it runs an enhanced version of Apple's iOS. "Enhanced" because you can also install certain programs to the local disk, such as graphics intensive programs, CAD programs, and financial packages. Of course, any installable programs would have to pass through Apple's vetting process to be available to the public. 

Software vendors could make their products available as apps, as installable applications, or as hybrid applications that exist partially on the user's local disk and partially in the cloud. 

Some of the interesting features of the Slice would be:

  • Screen extension capability with other Apple products
  • Application compatibility and auto install/sync with other Apple products
  • Data sharing between Apple devices
  • App "time-sharing" among Apple devices
  • Shared power connectors and peripherals
  • Long battery life

The Slice would have an automatic screen extension feature with Apple monitors, iPads, and other Apple notebooks. Wouldn't it be interesting to be able to extend your screen or duplicate your screen among other Apple devices? Think of the possibilities for training. You could duplicate your screen among all of your students in a classroom and allow each one to practice entering data, making edits, or clicking hyperlinks.

Application compatibility is a good feature to have. For example, often when I install a new app to my iPad, it also installs to my iPhone. I like that feature. It saves me time and the effort of having to remember to do that manually. If I don't want an app on my phone, I just delete it, but it remains on my iPad.

Through the use of cloud services, all your Apple products could share the same data: Contacts, app data, mail, documents, and so on. I know that there's some of this capability now, but not like I'm thinking of it. For example, if I install Angry Birds on my iPad and on my Slice, the game data is independent. It's as if I have two separate games — one for each device. I don't want that. I want to start a game on one and pick it up where I left off on the other device. 

App "time-sharing" is a feature that some vendors have tried in the past with success. Here's the way it would work in my world. You install an expensive app, say Final Cut Pro, on your Slice. Then you want to add some screenshots or work with the movie on your iPad. Without having to pay another $600+, your license grants you the capability of running your licensed product on one device at a time.

If you've read my other Apple-related posts, you know that I wasn't happy that it changed the power connector from the wide to the Lightning. Not because I don't like Lightning better, but it's because the two are absolutely incompatible and adapters don't work very well — they're too different. I just want Apple to be consistent or allow some compatibility between power connectors. Who wants to carry several power connectors around when one would or could work for everything?

Long battery life is pretty standard these days, but I'm looking at having a battery pack that would last five or more hours regardless of the application I'm using. I love how the disclaimers always tell us that the use of wi-fi or wi-fi-enabled apps will drain power faster. Really? And are there useful apps that don't use the internet? Seriously, give us a better battery.

In my mind, the Slice would hit the market at $400. Yes, still more expensive than the highest end Chromebook, but it is Apple after all. You can't expect miracles. The Slice would give Apple an inexpensive, versatible notebook form factor device that would compete directly with the Chromebook. And you know Apple fans would buy it just because it's Apple. There's nothing wrong with Apple having a cheap device available to its customers.

Do I love my Chromebook? Yes. Would I love the Apple equivalent? Probably. Is there a market for such a device? Without a doubt.

Would you buy a Slice? Why or why not? Do you think it would be a good Chromebook competitor? Talk back and let me know what you think.

*The price when I first looked at the 'Air'.

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Topics: Apple, Hardware, Software


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • No but Windows laptops do

    Chromebook isn't really a player due to lack of applications. Windows laptops have always beat out Apple laptops on low price availability. I don't really think Apple is interested in that market.
    Buster Friendly
    • no and yes

      Chromebooks do have apps, even a fair number of offline ones. And if one works for a business or organization which provides remote desktop/virtualization, then Chromebooks can run almost as much as Windows can (though not locally).

      But you're dead right that Apple has no interest in playing in low-margin markets. Apple wants very healthy margins on everything it sells, so they're not going to make low-end anything.
      • That's a thin client

        That makes it a thin client which is already a past failure. You can't really run your 3D engineering software as a remote desktop anyway. Even 2D in photoshop becomes pretty unusable from the latency. Even a cheap laptop has a reasonable local graphics performance these days.
        Buster Friendly
        • Not everyone needs 3D engineering software

          There is a market for Chromebook equivalents; they are cheaper than laptops, lighter, more efficient. Sure, not for everyone - but a huge proportion of laptop users.

          Anywhere that has decent wifi.

          I'm quite sure that Apple will move into this market sooner or later; their niche, even at 5-7.5% of the market, would justify the small investment.

          It would be tougher for Windows, as they'd be cannibalising their own market, so incentive would be much lower.

          But Apple will do it, when it suits them.
          • Linux, Windows, ChromeOS can all run on the same hardware

            Chromebooks prices are rising as they are running on more appropriate hardware now.

            Windows notebook prices are declining to Chromebook levels.

            Linux can run on either, so there is no such thing as a cheaper than Linux notebook.

            The price advantage of Chromebook is pretty much gone.
          • "Where's Apple's 'Chromebook'?"

            "Where's Apple's 'Chromebook'?"

            A few years ago some people were asking a very similar question:
            "Where's Apple's 'NetBook'?"

            (Remember NetBooks???)

            (͡° ͜ʖ°)
            Harvey Lubin
          • Tech changes

            Just like the hardware and Windows was not ready for tablets but Apple waiting and changed the OS to make a viable tablet, same too has happened to the "netbook". The ChromeBook is well suited for this platform but so is Windows 8x as both run thin and light and both (now) are free for OEMs.

            Just because something did not work in the past does not mean it was a bad idea.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • @Emacho you just don't get it

            It does not matter if windows price declines to chromebook level.
            The user benefits from having chromeOS and _not_having_windows_, particularly on lower end hardware.
            No one is saying the chromebook is the correct machine for everyone. Windows people are still insisting you are crazy for not using windows on everything.
            The kind of software I would need to use windows with, I would not want to use on a $250 netbook but rather the most powerful desktop PC I can get.
          • GOOGLE benefits from the user having ChromeOS

            There, I fixed that for you.
          • "GOOGLE benefits from the user having ChromeOS"

            No Sheet, Sherlock!

            You'll be telling us next that Microsoft benefits from the user having Windows.

            Quit while you're ahead ... once you start on Apple, your head will explode with the sheer effort.
          • I stated a fact. What am I not getting?

            Nothing you said refutes what I said.

            Someone said Chromebooks where cheaper and I am pointing out that that is not really the case anymore and I specifically named Linux in addition to Windows.

            I'm pretty sure you are the one that doesn't really get it.
          • Depends

            Software like iTunes or FireFox runs fine on low end W8x PCs. Also my work requires posturing for VPN access, which again, is not about the power needed by the app but compatibility. Same with my corporate VoIP software. All the heavy lifting I do with RDP on a local desktop on prem.

            Running W8x as Standard User, using OneDrive sync to backup and restore files and settings, etc makes W8 as secure, as fast (both boot and running), and as nimble as a ChromeBook. Now with these cheap device, it competes in price as well.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • price advantage is that you need half the support staff.

            Folks, pass judgement all you want, but tons of education folks are buying chromebooks.. there is no "it won't happen" arguments from the windows shills because it is already happening.

            No need for WSUS servers, easy central management, tons of apps. (especially with the soon addition of android apps and with those apps now moving to the Android L api and look they will be much more professional as a whole too.)

            With Native Client you get near native C++ speed and tools to help you easily port your apps over, so I wouldn't count them out yet. Lots of roads heading out of this one.

            In fact with the VMware cloud and chromebooks you can run Windows apps and have them work just as if they were on Windows.. except without the cost..

            As for Windows laptops approaching the same price.. Answer me this.. how much profit is in it for ASUS (or HP, or LG, or Samsung, or Toshiba etc) if they sell a chromebook running a Celeron (which chromeOS does much better than Windows) compared to the profit of an i3 intel with double or triple the ram and hard disk? (not to mention the windows license)

            Now ask yourself which device all the manufactures would prefer people bought and which ones they will try to push hardest?

            If you are already using VMware cloud and you introduce Chromebooks instead of new windows machines in the enterprise, most staff will be able to work with their windows apps exactly the same way they do now, only the business will spend a fraction of the cost maintaining a fleet of chromebooks. Not a traditional thin client, a much better end user experience and a good starting point till you write native apps if you wish to do so.

            It won't be for everyone, but I think they will snag a ton of schools looking to save money.. and I think probably lots of companies wondering what to do with their XP machines.
          • "I think they will snag a ton of schools looking to save money..."

            I agree, they will--until those school systems discover the ongoing costs will exceed their expectations.
          • Totally agree

            For niche uses like K-12 education or narrow enterprise needs, ChromeBooks are a fantastic device. Furthermore, Google has done a great job of creating programs that allow schools to buy them at a set upfront cost that gives them 4 years unlimited warranty (even due to abuse), free tech support and Google Apps for Education for 4 years, and free MDM on the device for life. That's a great deal for schools who tend to get all their money up front but never seen to have enough to maintain them.

            For home users I would still recommend a Windows 8 notebook but only if they have a friend set it up for them who knows what they are doing.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • "I'm quite sure that Apple will move into this market sooner or later"

            They're already there with a completely different product that has proven itself quite capable of the task; the iPad. Where schools are going with laptops, those that go with MacBooks are choosing them for their reliability over short-term costs. In fact, some of those schools go so far as to literally give the computer to the student upon graduation--meaning they expect the machines to last a MINIMUM of four years in the hands of their students. This kind of reliability saves money in the long term in the face of having to replace cheaper machines on a near-annual basis. It's time to look at that 'bottom line' and see where the real expense is.
        • it won't work for some jobs

          but it works fine for others. For the 95% or so of while collar workers who use various MSFT Office programs, e-mail, browser-based applications and some in-house .Net fill-in-the-form software, thin clients are more than adequate.

          But that's for work. Most Chromebooks are used for school or leisure. They're more than sufficient in those contexts, EVEN OFFLINE. Indeed, if I had no network connection, I'd prefer a Chromebook to iPads, Android tablets and Windows RT tablets.
          • "if I had no network connection, I'd prefer a Chromebook..."

            Why? Exactly what does a Chromebook offer *offline* that makes it the superior choice for you?
        • but LINUX

          If you really need to run the engineering software on a Chromebook, you could always replace Chrome OS with Linux, and if you need more space use an external drive or a USB stick
          • or upgrade as needed.

            Some Chromebooks allow upgrading the SSD and memory.