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

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.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

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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