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Apple preps netbook 10-inch touch screen thingy

Tablet anyone?

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The web is aflame with rumors that a 10in, touchscreen "netbook" will arrive from Apple later this year. But we see things differently.

As we reported on Monday, the rumor-fest began with a brief article on the Taiwanese industry-watching website DigiTimes that Apple's iPhone-display supplier, Wintex, will be supplying Cupertino with touch-screen displays beginnning in the third quarter of 2009.

That report was soon followed by articles from both Reuters and Dow Jones that cited other sources who said that the touchscreen display would be in the 9.7 to 10in range - about the same size as netbooks from a host of other companies.

Despite Apple's protestations that they're not planning a netbook - spiced by Steve Jobs' now-famous assertion that "we don't know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk" - Cupertino would be crazy not to be closely monitoring the low end of the PC market.

After all, netbooks are one of the only bright spots in an industry reeling under the effects of the ongoing Meltdown. In the final quarter of 2008, the little fellows accounted for 20 per cent of all laptop sales, and a recent report from Gartner predicts that netbooks will be the only PC segment to grow in 2009.

But the definition of "netbook" is an amorphous one - at best. One common definition is a shrunken, underpowered notebook designed for web access, email, and light-duty productivity apps. Examples include Dell's Inspiron Mini 10 and Inspiron Mini 9, Samsung's NC10, Fujitsu Siemens' Amilo Mini UI 3520, and Lenovo's IdeaPad S10e.

But other form factors are also appearing under the netbook umbrella. Witness, for example, Gigabyte's touch-screen, swiveling-display, keyboard-equipped M1028M and M1028G, Always Innovating’s foldable half-tablet, half-keyboard Touch Book, Samsung's tablet-only Q1 EX, and UMID's ridiculously tiny mbook, with its 4.8-inch display.

Even using the term "netbook" is risky, what with Psion Techlogix's attempt to assert its 1996 trademark on the term - a legal brouhaha quickly joined by Dell and Intel.

So we won't call the rumored 10in touchscreen device from Apple a netbook.

Perhaps it will (finally) be the much-anticipated tablet Mac - a jumbo iPod touch - that resurrects the name iBook. After all, Apple has been known to bring a product name back from the dead - witness "SuperDrive," which Apple now calls the DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW drives in all of its line, but which it formerly called its 1.44MB floppy drive introduced in 1988.

Whatever Apple is planning to build with all those 10-inch touch-screen displays from Wintek, if the device has full Mac OS X capability don't expect it to be in the sub-$500 netbook price range. After all, remember that Steve Jobs said Apple doesn't know how to build something that inexpensive that's "not a piece of junk."

Although if the PC market continues to implode, Apple just might have to learn how. But they won't call it a netbook. ®

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