Apple netbook rumors resurface

Yesterday saw lots of buzz about a long-rumored Apple netbook. The source can be tracked back to a Digitimes article reporting that Chinese-language publication Commercial Times reports (stay with me!) that Wintek Corporation is supplying Apple with touch panels for a new device, with shipments to begin in the second half of this year.

It's a pretty nebulous trail, I'll admit. But with the sales of netbooks expected to double (to 20 million units worldwide) in 2009, and Mac enthusiasts already shoehorning OS X onto existing netbooks, it stands to reason that Apple is paying attention. At the same time, the conventional form factor of a netbook doesn't neccesarily fit with the touch panel report. This led gadget enthusiast site Gizmodo to put together a pretty crazy mock-up. Other sites visualize a standard profile, but again, why then add a touch sensitive screen? That seems clumsy to me.

After a few hours reading everyone's thoughts, I was thinking BusinessWire had the right idea. The device they're envisioning (they call it the "iPod Touch HD") is a 7-8" version of the iPod Touch. No physical keyboard, access to the App Store, Wi-Fi enabled (of course) and possibly 3G wireless as an option. The only drawback is the $600-$700 price tag that they speculate such a device would carry (and which makes sense, given the price of the existing iPod Touch). At that price, I don't see such a device competing with the $200-$400 netbooks that are becoming so popular in this down-economy, cloud-based world that we're living in. Another hole was shot through this theory when CNN Money reported that whatever device is coming (they again say a netbook), it'll have a screen size of between 9.7-inches and 10-inches. That seems pretty large for the device BusinessWire is envisioning.

Another possibility that I came up with is a form factor similar to Always Innovating's Touch Book. The Touch Book has a removable keyboard. You can use it like a traditional netbook or detach the keyboard and use it as a standalone tablet. I can see Apple going down this road, though I'm not sure the removable keyboard is the Apple way, so maybe a keyboard that folds away?

And lastly, maybe these touch-panels aren't for a netbook at all. Maybe this is when Apple is going to jump into the e-reader space in order to take on Amazon and the Kindle. It has to be killing them that they're selling Amazon goods via Kindle for iPhone, considering they compete with Amazon when its comes to digital music and video.

I'm out of ideas. Assuming something new is coming from Apple, and that something is going to use a touch screen, what do you think it will be? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

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