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More Hints From Taiwan of an Apple Netbook

Apple notebooks
Apple MacBook Pro
Source: Apple

A report from Taiwan that Apple is developing a new netbook with touch-based panels has caused another flare-up of discussion on Apple boards and blogs, even though the company has repeatedly said it's not interested in entering that low-cost, low-end segment of the PC market.

The story first ran in the Chinese-language publication Commercial Times before being picked up by DigiTimes, the English-language tech news site. Both publications can be hit or miss on rumors, although Commercial Times did get it right last year when it reported that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) had new MacBooks coming during the third quarter.

Now, reports are indicating that Taiwan-based Wintek will supply touch panels for Apple's new netbook, which would come out in the third quarter this year. Wintek specializes in flat-panel displays and touchscreens.

The report added that Quanta Computer will make Apple's new netbook. Quanta, the largest original design manufacturer (ODM) in the world, makes notebooks for almost every vendor on the market and is already Apple's outsource partner to make notebooks and the iPod.

Apple did not return calls seeking comment.

As a result of the reports, Apple blogs and message boards are having a field day speculating on what kind of product Quanta produces.

But industry observers say that a straight-up netbook makes the least sense for the company, going totally contrary to everything it's said.

"They just refuse to play in the mainstream market," Van Baker, research director with Gartner, told InternetNews.com. "They play at the high end. They come out with premium configurations and charge a premium price for it. Bringing out a netbook flies in the face of it. It's like they've said all along, they 'don't do cheap' -- and they don't."

Apple's netbook -- the iPhone?

Baker said if you ask the Apple team about a netbook, a lot of times they respond with "'we've got one, it's called the iPhone.' There's some truth to that. A lot of what you do with a netbook you can be accomplished with an iPhone."

Yet Baker isn't ruling out a new Apple offering, saying that he expects it to produce a whole new device in a new market, or at the very least, a radical departure from netbooks.

Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, also thinks Apple is looking to carve out a new niche rather than join the mob in an existing one.

"They might be looking to get into the market at under the $1,000 price point with a device that does more than an iPod Touch or iPhone, but not the full feature set as a MacBook and above," he told InternetNews.com. "I don't think they'd do it with a traditional netbook."

He thinks Apple could be exploring a beefed-up iPod Touch, since the iPod line has not changed much since its inception and could use a shot in the arm.

[cob:Special_Report]"It could be exciting to see a bigger screen iPod or iPhone device that's not a pocket thing," Bajarin said. "That could be an exciting thing, especially if they add some e-reader capabilities to it."

E-readers have received a great deal of attention lately, with Amazon's launch of the second generation of its Kindle e-book reader last month. Last week, Apple and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) debuted a Kindle-compatible e-book app for the iPhone.