Anyone who follows me on Seesmic will know that I have been experimenting with a Dell Mini 9 Netbook running OS X. And I have to say it has been simply AMAZING.
I ended up choosing the Dell Mini 9 as it appears to be the only Netbook whose chipset doesn’t have any major incompatibilities with OS X’s driver set. (MSI Wind is a close second, but the internal mic doesn’t work – which is a deal breaker for Seesmic and Skype).
And now Engaget and ZDNet have noticed that Dell have slashed the prices on these babies. You can also pick up great deals over on Dell’s Outlet site. I managed to pick up a pristine 32Gig SSD/1Gig/Web Cam/Bluetooth refurb machine for $260 after 20% rebate with free shipping (such deals come and go, keep an eye on SlickDeals.net).
BTW: it’s wroth noting that the baseline model being touted is a Dell Mini 9n which is a slightly different model to the non-N and I don’t know whether it is equally as OS X compatible.
Why is this a future product line for Apple?
Because the iPhone doesn’t suit everyone as the truly portable Apple experience. Like many, I can’t stand typing anything longer than a twitter or SMS on the iPhone on-screen keyboard. It also still doesn’t give me multitasking of multiple applications nor true ‘full internet’ browser experience.
Laptop owners are buying Netbooks as second machines for times when they don’t want to carry their full-size and highly expensive main units. Desktop owners are buying them as their toe-dip into the laptop water – perhaps not really needing one but wanting to experiment given such a low entry point.
In many ways, a Mac Netbook is what the Mac Book Air should have been – especially as for many it serves as a secondary Apple laptop to a primary MacBook Pro 15 or 17 machine.
The fact that it can fit in a manila envelope is technically amazing but but doesn’t make it more practical to lug around than a Mac Book or Mac Book Pro. You certainly can’t fit it into a purse or regular non-laptop bag. That’s because it’s uber-small on the wrong dimension – thickness. What was the last time you complained your laptop was too thick.
Netbooks are often as much as an inch thick – but crucially only 10″ x 7″ or so, making them carriable in practically anything – even just your hand. They often also have as many as 3 USB ports on them, plus VGA and network ports (compare to the Air’s cripplingly situated single USB and no standardized NIC or VGA/DVI ports).
The Mac Book Air design is also inherently expensive, and arguably it’s biggest flaw. It should have been a cheap affair – like the White Mac Book – rather than the pioneer for Apple’s expensive aluminum unibody design.
Steve Jobs has described the netbook vertical as ‘a race to the bottom’ – but by that he’s been referring to the price point. But with all of the mainstream netbooks based around the same Win XP/Intel Atom CPU platform with a 9″ or 10″ screen, the only differentiator any of them can offer is price.
However, an Apple Netbook would have a guaranteed notable differentiator in it’s operating system. Factor in the fact that it’s also likely Apple would make an aesthetically amazing unit and you already see a compelling alternative proposition, even at a higher price point.
Apple have never competed on price and they would be foolish to do so in the Netbook market. But if Dell can sell me a unit for $260 then there is no reason why Apple can’t manufacture such a unit with the kind of profit margins they enjoy on their other lines. The Dell Mini 9 utilizes a commodity Intel stack that runs OS X with little problem and clearly the same chip-set could be purchased by Apple for the same price Dell does.
Factor in that an Apple OS X Netbook would probably be a $600-$750 affair running on the same internals as my $260 Dell and you can see where Apple’s healthy profit margin is.
And despite that margin I know that I would gladly pay $750 for such a unit.
MacBook Air/MacBook Pro photo by Maury McCown
UPDATE: Gizmodo has a great guide on how to install OS X on to a Mini 9. I’m guessing its now going to be hard to get the larger capacity drive units on the Dell Outlet site as everyone will be wanting one!