It’s time to take a fresh look at Apple Macbooks. One step closer to multi-touch screens, with a great starting price that will get customers excited
Enough has already been said about the health of Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs. Now is the time to turn our attention to something more interesting, that ‘future product transition’, mentioned several times by Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer during a conference call on the company’s recent revenue collection.
The good investment of Apple is in the rejuvenation of the line of its notebook (small portable computers of a size close to the format A4). I know I’m not the only one with opinions on this subject, but here are the reasons why I expect new iterations of the Macbook Pro to be part of the series of changes that Apple is counting on to help it reduce gross margin to 30% for fiscal year 2009 from 35% in the third quarter of 2008, which ended in June.
The first indication is the fall in the margins itself. There are actually two ways to reduce margins: lower prices or increase the cost of the product by improving its characteristics.
A BACK-TO-SCHOOL BONUS?
When it comes to demand, Apple has the wind at its back. According to Gartner (a technology and IT research company), Apple’s share of the US PC market jumped 8.5% in the first quarter of June, from 6.4% in the same period last year. last year, thus helping Apple to reduce the large margin, it must be admitted, which separates it from Dell (DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). Apple could take an even bigger chunk by slashing the prices of its Macs, which tend to cost much more than other machines.
But the most likely option is that Apple will add accessories to its existing versions of the Mac and the iPod. Generally speaking, Apple likes to keep the same well-defined price range for all of its products, so adding expensive accessories would only eat into margins, at least until their component costs decline. over time.
The second indication is the timing. Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter, which ends in September, coincides with the back-to-school season. In each of the past two years, Apple has sold almost a third of all of its Macs sold during the year in the last quarter, more than any other period.
TIME TO REDESIGN
But why the notebook line? Macbooks accounted for about 60% of Apple computer sales in fiscal year 2007, and while their sales were incredible, they weren’t really redesigned for several years. The Macbook and the Macbook Pro were updated on February 26, so both have to undergo the revamp that Apple has a habit of bringing to its notebooks every six months or so.
The Macbook Pro, which is the most powerful of the series, in particular needs to be overhauled. Aside from some touches made in previous years, the Macbook Pro is essentially the same notebook as the PowerBook Titanium. was when the latter appeared on the market in 2001. The main elements (a screen with a width of 38 centimeters and a silver-tone metal casing) have evolved only slightly over the past seven years. Oppenheimer said during the conference that the new products will be ‘delivered to the customer at an entirely different value’. But what can be done, apart from making serious changes to the product, to best approach this objective?
The smartest direction to look at if looking for change is the display screen. Expect a multi-touch presentation similar to that found on the iPhone and iPod touch. Apple has a solid set of patents on the new technology and has honed its multitouch technology by copying that of its Ipod line.
A LARGER MULTI-TOUCH SCREEN?
While it’s sure the MacBook Pro could be updated, it’s also likely that Apple will weave its technology in by improving a smaller-form-factor notebook first, says Supply analyst Jennifer Callgrove. Adding the option of a multi-touch screen to the MacBook Pro will increase the current price by 50% to 80%, adds his colleague Sweta Das. So I imagine a small Macbook with a multi-touch display that measures around 9-10 inches will be among the ‘few wonderful new products’ that Jobs mentioned in the press release where he leaked his recipes on July 21. last.
It’s a relatively low-risk leap, considering the cost, to go from an 8.5cm screen (found on current iPhones and iPods) to a screen measuring 23cm, according to Callgrove . But given the current prices, upgrading to something bigger would be too expensive.
Apple will certainly find people ready to buy a mini-Mac equipped with a multitouch function and a keyboard. The success of the MacBook Air suggests that at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, there’s a new drive to rethink primarily what a MacBook can be. Taiwanese company Asustek was an excellent model when it launched its tiny eePC (see the BusinessWeek.com issue of 3/6/08).
Just imagine the possibilities. Zoom in easy to use on images or documents, making a movement similar to that of the ‘pinch’ which makes the iPhone so extraordinary. You could ‘zoom’ in and out of the desktop computer, giving you the freedom to arrange your computer desk as easily as you would tucking away bits of paper on your real desk, then stepping into the programs and exit there as easily, using the zoom.
PROGRESS FOR GOOD BUSINESS?
If you liked Spaces, the Mac accessory that lets you choose to assign virtual screens to each program and then, if you type on a specific character, moves from one program to another, you might just enjoy it even better if you could use your fingers in a way that they can tap between space and space the same way you can now tap between the home screen and the Iphone. That smaller Mac mini screen might not seem so small after all.
If there’s an argument against the Mac mini’s touchscreen, it might well cannibalize MacBook Air sales. But Apple could minimize such risks by keeping the price lower (for example, offering limited storage capacity, such as 32 gigabytes on solid-state flash drive). It’s the same as what’s available on the brand new version of the $499 iPod touch. Using flash memory would give the machine the ability to be transported better; all the data stored on the memory disk would survive a shock, for example. Plus, it could be as thin as the Air version, if not thinner, while still leaving room to plug in a USB port or two.
More importantly, this new, smaller machine could sell for less than $800 new territory for Apple pricing. (The current starting price of a MacBook is $1,099). It would most certainly be a popular product with both an excellent set of accessories and an aggressive price tag. Multi-touch screens could then easily climb the ladder and power Apple’s regular notebooks, then the iMac, and perhaps even its line of Cinema Displays. It’s possible that over time we’ll get so used to using touch screens that we won’t need a mouse anymore.