What's up with Apple's laptops?

Along with the expected upgrades and updates, Apple's developer event raised questions over the company's future laptop strategy.
Written by Seb Janacek, Contributor
This week's keynote at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference threw up few surprises.

A few developers nearly threw up their breakfasts as their on-stage demos failed to work properly but, by and large, there was nothing that hadn't been predicted or leaked.

The pleasant news was the reasonable pricing of Apple's operating system update, Snow Leopard. Largely about stability and performance tweaks, the upgrade will cost just $29, compared to $129 for previous iterations.

The mid-June launch of the new iPhone and the iPhone 3.0 software update (which also covers the iPod Touch) was broadly predicted.

The most interesting announcement was made towards the start of the keynote, with the unveiling of the new laptop range.

Apple released its new range of unibody aluminium MacBooks and MacBook Pros last autumn - yet already here was a significant upgrade.

The upgrade includes the usual speed bump for processors, storage space and RAM. It also features new battery technology that Apple claims will keep you going for around seven hours.

What was really interesting, though, was what wasn't announced.

Back in the late 1990s, one of the first things Steve Jobs addressed on his return to the company was Apple's confused and disjointed product portfolio. Until his return the company had a maelstrom of competing product groups with little coherence or governance.

Jobs soon rationalized the product strategy and cut the Mac into four segments: pro desktop, pro laptop, consumer desktop and consumer laptop.

Since then, additional products have come and gone with relative degrees of success and failure (such as the MacBook Air and Cube, respectively) but the four segments have remained steadfast as the foundation of the company's Mac strategy.

Today's MacBook announcement clearly leaves one of the most commercially successful segments of the strategy in recent years looking distinctly bare: consumer laptop.

The migration of the 13-inch aluminium MacBook to the MacBook Pro brand leaves just one MacBook in the consumer laptop category - the white plastic model that was first released way back in 2006.

This means the category in need of an overhaul. There are a number of options here.

Apple could leave it as it is, or reintroduce additional plastic models. They were hugely successful but are both long in the tooth from a design perspective and lack the more 'green' recyclable aluminium and glass elements.

Another option is for Apple to introduce a new range of MacBook computers. Given the smallest MacBook Pro now features a 13-inch screen, we may soon see a range of smaller computers.

I suspect one of the reasons for the transition of the MacBook into the Pro family was the lack of differentiation between the ranges. This may well be more of a problem going forward.

There is a current trend of computing that may fit into this category and that is the so-called netbook.

I've written before on the unlikely prospects for an Apple-branded netbook. Both CEO Jobs and acting CEO Tim Cook dismissed the idea while admitting they had some "interesting ideas" for the product space.

Rumors have abounded over various consumer-targeted offerings for Apple, and given yesterday's announcement, the time may be coming where the company shows its hand.

This article was originally posted on silicon.com.

Editorial standards