The technology sector is full of famous U-turns, but could Steve Jobs' decision to stop trashing 11in laptops and build an 11.6in MacBook Air come back to haunt him? In particular could it cannibalise the tablet sector Apple has worked so hard to ignite?
The early signs are yes, something which has had industry experts hastily performing U-turns of their own. The common argument throughout 2010 has been netbooks have seen their day and the iPad is responsible – a simple deduction of 1 + 1 = 5. Truth is the iPad has shown a greater appetite for the iPod touch and netbooks have declined because a) having shipped 100s of millions of units in the last 18 months owners aren't ready to upgrade again, and b) netbooks were horribly mis-sold as small laptops which turned many less techy owners off buying another one.
This realisation is starting to kick in as only last week market watcher ChangeWave admitted netbook sales were down, but as The Register reports, "not necessarily in the wake of the iPad's introduction". Let's put this in further context. Apple sold 7.5m iPads in its first six months on sale, actually missing industry forecasts. By contrast netbook sales were on target to sell almost 60m this year despite a huge drop-off in growth. The iPad isn't killing netbooks, netbooks are doing a fine job of killing themselves and the 11in laptop looks set to prey on both.
The selling point of the 11.6in MacBook Air is simple: a high class laptop with good performance in a comparable netbook-size form factor. The price may be expensive (£849), but for Apple it actually represents a new low for its laptops and when compared to Sony's (admittedly delectable) 11.6in Vaio TZ range (prices from £1,300) does look like value for money.
Of course as any techy worth their salt will know the pitch behind the new MacBook Air isn't new. The 11.6in Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ has long been a favourite of TR readers and it won the TrustedReviews Awards 2009 Best Portable Laptop category by a country mile (amusingly ahead of the 13.3in MacBook Pro). The 1810TZ also uses the same Intel CULV processor technology which is at the heart of the 11.6in Air. Then look at Dell's 11.6in gaming marvel, the Alienware M11x - out since April. What Apple has done, however, is what Apple does best: it has used its marketing prowess to bring this powerful argument to the masses – and who would want a tablet after that?