Let's get the rumours out of the way first. It started off with the Chinese-language Commercial Time newspaper reporting that Wintek will manufacture touch panels for an upcoming Apple netbook. The report also said that Quanta will assemble the machine. In case you're wondering where you've heard the name Quanta before, note that it assembles machines for - long list alert - a lot of comapnies: ACER, Alienware, Apple, Cisco, Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Gericom, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Maxdata, MPC, Sharp Corporation, Siemens AG, Sony, Sun Microsystems, and Toshiba. It's the largest notebook manufacturer in the world.
That report was followed by a story on the Dow Jones Newswires. "Two people close to the situation" told the Dow Jones Newswires that Apple is planning on releasing touch-screen netbooks in the second half of this year, with screens between 9.7" and 10". Which made me wonder how many different screen sizes you can squeeze out of such a small window, but anyway.
Let me first make it clear that yes, Apple will enter the netbook market. The whole saga around Apple and netbooks follows Jon Siracusa's (in)famous Apple product cycle, which basically goes like this: new product category becomes popular. Apple fanatics wonder how cool it would be if Apple entered the market. Discussion becomes rumour, analysts say that yes, the product is coming. Apple and Jobs bash the product category, then move on to bashing the current products in that category, and then, when the Apple faithful have given up hope, Apple releases a product in the relevant product category.
Now, I don't believe Apple's netbook will be all that special or have any extraordinary features. All that Apple has to do is make a small version of the MacBook, make it very stylish and slim, slap on a 600-700 USD/EUR pricetag, and they have a product that will sell like hotcakes. It doesn't need touch screens or fairy dust dispensers in order to sell.
The interesting bit would be the software. The Mac OS X user interface isn't exactly geared towards small displays, which raises the question whether or not Apple has to come up with a special interface of some sort to make Mac OS X better fit for small displays.
Some suggest that Apple's iPhone OS would be a good contender, but that would be a very bad idea. The iPhone's OS might be a very decent operating system compared to other smartphone operating systems, but slap it on a netbook and it will give the device a My First Computer feeling. A netbook that can't multitask or run background applications isn't a particularly good sell. It's about as idiotic as an operating system that can only run three applications at a time. If you know what I mean.
I think it will actually be more likely that Apple's netbook will simply have a bigger display, but thanks to the thinness of the rest of the device, it won't hurt the weight all that much. Many Apple fans miss the 12.1" PowerBook and iBook computers, so with 12" netbook Apple could catch two birds with one stone: it could hit the netbook market, and please the 12.1" iBook/PowerBook crowd.
What do you all think? Before anyone goes there: no, the iPhone/iPod Touch are not netbooks.