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Despite of the fact that Apple, at least officially, did not plan to launch a netbook anytime soon, analysts from Technology Business Research believe that Apple is preparing an affordable ultra-mobile personal computer to gain market share amid global economy slump.

TBR believes that Apple will announce the new product at MacWorld in January 2009, to become available around mid-year. It will come in two sizes, one much like the MacBook Air and one similar to a netbook, with the smaller unit priced at $599. With such a price-point, it is unclear whether such netbook will feature Intel Atom processor, or will feature more advanced Intel Celeron M chip to improve performance compared to rivals.

“Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested the $599 price by stating that Apple didn’t know how to make a $500 computer that was not junk. The price also supports Apple’s pricing strategy; it is higher than competitors’ but not so much higher as to be uncompetitive,” said TBR analyst Ezra Gottheil.

There are several problems that Apple has run into and which it needs to solve better sooner than later. Apple needs news customers to increase its market share and revenue level, however, it needs to maintain its profit margins and also do everything to sustain sales of expensive Macintosh offerings.

By maintaining price levels for the lowest-priced Macs while the PC industry lowered entry prices, Apple gradually moved out of the most price-sensitive markets, including the fastest growing emerging economies. This problem is exacerbated by the recession as Apple’s traditional consumers begin to cut their spending. While Apple could profitably produce a less-expensive Mac, it would cannibalize the market for the lower-priced Macs. Performance and design compromises might also affect the Mac brand.

“After Apple announces this new product, we believe other vendors will hurry to provide competitive devices, software and services. Eventually, the simplified netbook device will be established as an important web access and basic computing platform in both consumer and business markets. As with PCs, Apple will maintain itself in a premium niche, and TBR believes the company will maintain a larger market share in this new category,” Ms. Gottheil added.

According to TBR, a netbook from Apple should feature a set of simplistic services that would be useful and easy to utilize by novices.

Tags: Apple, macbook, Intel, Celeron

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