Apple’s iWeb Multimedia Computer?

by Bakari Chavanu Oct 03, 2008

Recently, as we all know by now, Apple held yet another special event to showcase yet another upgrade in its revolutionary line of iPods and iPhones. Most of us either viewed and/or read about the contents of the event without yawning or falling asleep. I for one wrote about iTunes's Genius (announced at the event) just as I have written several other articles about iTune upgrades. So there's no whining from me about what the event offered.

But for some reason I can't get out of mind that at the next Macworld conference in January, I'm not looking forward to a 4th generation iPhone with video and a bigger hard drive, or even a faster, re-designed MacBook Pro. We know those upgrades and redesigns are coming, but they shouldn't be the next big thing. Nor do I want to see another three or four features added to the AppleTV. I'm still not going to buy it. It's never been worth the price because well TV is no longer my choice of entertainment.

So what do I want to see at Macworld? Well, I want to see something revolutionary, at least mass-oriented. Last year Apple introduced MacBook Air. Its sleek, ultrathin design got a lot of attention and handling on the conference floor, but since then I haven't heard much about it. I felt then as I do now that it is an expensive ($1800!), easily designed computer marketed toward the same cosmopolitan money crowd who could afford the first generation overly priced iPhone. Essentially, MacBook Air was not for multimedia professionals or for college kids on a budget. 

But of late, I've been thinking a lot about not just a thin computer but a smart, real notebook size computer. Something between the MacBook Air and the iPhone or iPod touch. Yes, it's great to have the iPhone as a small computer in your pocket, but lets face it there's only so much computing you can do on a small gadget like the iPhone. Your eyes become glazed and strained, and your fingers grow tired after an hour clicking apps and reading a few articles on the small screen. And I'm still not sure why anyone would want to watch a full-length movie on a 3x5 device.  Don't get me wrong, the iPhone and iPod Touch are great, but they're not the computer for everyone. 

What everyone needs is a real multimedia, largely web-based computer notebook. Just as Apple made the iPod the best MP3 player on the planet, it needs to make a web-based computer notebook that would put cheap Dell computers out of business. 

When I call for a web-based notebook, I mean that almost literally. This type of computer would have room for software applications, but its focus would be on cross-platform, web-based applications. Most of the storage content would be web-based with synchronization capabilities if needed. 

This would be a re-redesigned MacBook Air  that wouldn't cost $1800!, but no more than $500! It wouldn't come installed with iLife applications. It would come installed with iweb applications. 

I guess you could say that if someone wants a cheap web-based computer, then simply purchase a cheap stripped-down Dell computer with no applications except a web browser bookmarked with the latest 2.0 websites. But I would say that a cheap Apple computer is not the same thing as a cheap Apple notebook. Everything needed to build and produce this notebook already exist. It just needs Apple's unique design and intuitive approach that Mac users are addicted to. The apps you put on the notebook computer would be same ones you download from the iTunes app store. 

Would it have a mail client installed? No. It would have MailWrangler  or something similar. Would there be a need for iTunes application? No. Your iTunes library would be stored on the web. Would it need iPhoto? No. Your photos would be housed on your MobileMe or similar web gallery. Would it need iMovie? No. You would upload short movie files to web and edit from there. (or do what most people do: never edit them at all.) Would it need at least a text editor application? Well you know that answer to that. 

I'm calling it the Notebook Air. It would be Apple's Kindle, an online iTunes multi-media player, an online office suite, and a media-card reader to upload photos directly to a designated website. That's pretty much it. Simple and well made. Essentially a larger (but affordable) iPod touch!

I know this doesn't sound like a money-making idea for Apple. But it does sound profitable when it sells in mass like the iPod. It's a money maker when it's a notebook that easily fits in the backpack of not only thousands of college students but of elementary and high school kids as well. It's the notebook that gets people online and makes computing as easy as picking up a book and reading it. It would take computing to another level, and it would be done the Apple way. But hey, this is just wishful thinking here. Right?


  • Hm…built a picture in my head as I read your article on started getting excited.  This machine you described would be perfect for my wife.  She loves the Google Suite ( iGoogle, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk ) and a machine like this, at the price point you mentioned would be sweet nirvana for her.

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Oct 03, 2008 Posts: 45
  • A stripped down, small version of the MacBook Air, very modest processor, tiny SSD, WiFi, Headphone port, Mono-speaker, Universal Connector Port (because you can sync it to your desktop).

    No HDD, No USB, No CD/DVD. It’s basically an iPhone in a MacBook shell. Yes. I said iPhone, because it is also a PHONE (mobile service optional).

    It is different from an iPhone due to the large screen, full size keyboard, and more powerful processor. It is like the iPhone due to a trackpad that acts like a touch screen, has Mail, Safari, Address Book, etc.

    The “WebBook” has a stripped version of iLife apps that work mostly with the online MobileMe service, but have basic off-line capabilities.

    So, I can sit at the coffee shop and check Email, run Safari, listen to my iTunes purchases (music and video), update my Address Book, update my iCal, make phone calls,

    (Just like I do on my iPhone)

    update my iWeb, update my MobileMe Gallery, do basic word processing (by tying in the email apps word processing abilities?), Chat, go Back to my Mac and Print (via BTMM or to a shared printer over WiFi).

    I CAN’T install anything other than the included apps or iTunes Store Apps. I CAN run webapps, like the iPhone. So no Office, Warcraft, Photoshop, DVD’s, VMWare, direct-connect printing, etc.

    Stuff is saved to your iDisk, etc.

    I don’t know the margins on such a machine, but I see it as a few hundred bucks, $400 at the most with a free year of MobileMe to get you started. I guess the savings come from no HDD, basic graphics card, basic processor, no real I/O ports, no removable media drives, small screen, no FW, no Ethernet, no Modem, etc.

    Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, but more Apple-ier.

    Maczada had this to say on Oct 03, 2008 Posts: 2
  • Well, there’s the Acer Aspire One, the EEE and the Dell Mini 9 for a start. And a web-based OS? Have you seen gOS, which is a Ubuntu derivative with a dock nd loads of Google Apps?

    I think the problem is that once Apple have done their ‘make it gorgeous’ thing, they’ll be sitting at £450 rather than the £200 - £350’ everyone else is at and it may not sell…

    But I still want one.

    evilcat had this to say on Oct 04, 2008 Posts: 66
  • Apple sometimes makes products that don’t catch the world on fire, but they all have these two factors in common: they have a large potential market, and they can be sold at high margins. The Apple TV is an example. It didn’t catch the world on fire, but it does have a large potential market (everyone who owns a television set) and it can be sold at high margins.

    It would be very easy to put out a very successful niche product that has such a low return that it doesn’t pay for its own development and manufacturing. Apple spends a lot of money on making their products beautiful, because that increases sales—but it also increases development costs. So Apple’s strategy is wise.

    What you are describing is a product with a limited market that must be sold at low margins, and on top of that, the potential customer base is price-sensitive. Apple won’t go there until they determine that it isn’t a niche product and they find a way to develop and sell it profitably. No matter how much you crave it.

    For many people, Apple is a religion, but to its executives and shareholders, it’s a business that’s supposed to give them a return on their investment.

    Hugmup had this to say on Oct 04, 2008 Posts: 40
  • >“Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, but more Apple-ier.” Thanks, Maczada, for pointing this out. Yep, it’s definitely what I had in mind when I wrote this article. Apple could easily produce something similar the Mini 9, and I think there would be a great niche market for it.

    Bakari had this to say on Oct 05, 2008 Posts: 37
  • I agree with Hugmup. Standing alone, Apple will never offer such a product. It cannot make much money for them; Apple only makes products where they see a substantial profit as a possibility.

    Offering a thin-client notebook could come along as a component of some system that could make substantial profits, though I don’t see this happening soon. I call this other product iHome, and it would include the following features:

    —capabilities of latest generation 4-core (or 8?) Mac Plus
    —an amped-up Xgrid, so multiple users could use it simultaneously
    —fast, or faster, Airport Express Base station, and fast Ethernet, so it could communicate quickly with multiple users
    —fastest video capabilities
    —large storage, say 1 TB plus
    —Apple TV capabilities
    —Tivo capabilities

    IHome would be designed to work specifically with thin-client notebooks that each have a cheap processor, a monitor screen, a keyboard, plus fast communication and video display capabilities. The client would download all but the simplest tasks to iHome when at home, and to the cloud otherwise. More capable clients would also work, and they would download fewer tasks. iPhones, iTouch, and iPods would also interact with it.

    This setup would substitute for, say, four independent machines in a household. Expensive processor power and storage are used much, much more efficiently, as it would be in the cloud. Almost all tasks would be done much faster, though, than when using the cloud, the cloud’s biggest disadvantage.

    $3-$4K for iHome plus $500 per thin client is cheaper for many families than independent notebooks for each. No telephone landline needed either. It would offer an experience for combined computing, games, music, telecommunication, and high definition video that no one could match.

    Add an iSMB version with 8-16 cores, and users see an improved experience both at home and at the office, and slower cloud computing only when traveling. Much less expensive than standalone machines at work, too.

    All the pieces Apple offers now, except for the amped-up Xgrid and the thin clients. Other Unix systems have something close to those two, as well.

    gametheoryman had this to say on Oct 05, 2008 Posts: 2
  • gametheoryman, your idea sounds even better. It has the top heavy hardware for the investors end and the thin client hardware for everyone else. But you know there’s going to be people who will just want the thin client without the iHome. Nevertheless, a super idea. I could really see Apple creating this one.

    Bakari had this to say on Oct 05, 2008 Posts: 37
  • Here’s a little mockup Apple notebook that someone designed. But I think the keyboard should slide out of the computer and back in. The touch screen keyboard is okay, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to go.

    Bakari had this to say on Oct 06, 2008 Posts: 37
  • Man, the “iHome” server-client concept sounds awesome. Especially, if I could harness the power of the “server” as needed on clients at home. Then, the clients could go off into the world and function as WebBooks on the road.

    This is great for those of us with more than 2 or 3 computers, myself included (2 PM G5 with 30”, latest 24” iMac, MacBook, 3 iPhones, 2 iPods).

    But I still think the WebBook is a great standalone idea. No one thought Apple would make a cheapy-iPod, but they did. The Mini was just the cheap version of the Cube (and shared the same marketing problems, despite sharing the same technical achievements).

    iPhone went from $600 to $200 in one year. No reason the MacBook can’t “do the same.” Also, the WebBook will be more like an iPhone than a MacBook. If it ties in MobileMe, it could be profitable enough for Apple. Hell, the Mini isn’t very profitable overall due to low sales (fact check needed) but it is hanging around.

    I know I would get one if Apple made one.

    Maczada had this to say on Oct 06, 2008 Posts: 2
  • Here’s another good article about the Apple notebook idea.

    Bakari had this to say on Oct 09, 2008 Posts: 37
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