Report: AT&T to Launch $99 iPhone 3.0-Based Netbook

The on-again, off-again rumor of an Apple Inc. netbook resurfaced this week after tech blog Boy Genius Report insisted that it has confirmed details from an AT&T Inc. exec in the know, saying the market should get ready for a $99 netbook later this year. By extrapolation, that netbook will likely run the iPhone 3.0 OS, because it won’t be a Windows machine.

Among the other allegedly true information: Apple will use iPhone 3.0 OS to show us where the “platform” is going. And there’s also this quote from the unnamed AT&T source: “Customers shouldn’t need to choose from AT&T’s high-end devices because of features, they should choose based on preferences.” That statement of course in no way mentions Apple, we must point out. In fact, the whole posting in no way points to an Apple netbook, but has been taken as such.

The idea of the Apple netbook (almost as hallowed of a concept these days as the Dell smartphone) has been percolating through the industry for months ever since an analyst mentioned he had “triangulated” and figured out that Apple would release a netbook (or two) at January’s Macworld. That didn’t happen. And Apple’s Steve Jobs has seemed rather anti-netbook, saying last October that Apple didn’t feel netbooks were ready for prime time and that the iPhone was in fact already in that category, anyway. “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk,” he added.

But the zeitgeist has changed a bit since then: ABI Research forecasts that manufacturers will ship 200 million ultramobile devices, including netbooks, by 2013. And the netbook market will grow at least 100 percent this year alone. The segment’s momentum is such that it’s eating away at traditional computing, which is seeing slumps in sales and losses for companies like chipmaker Intel Corp.. Also, Apple’s competitors have all leaped into the netbook game.

For its part, AT&T is no stranger to the $99 netbook game, having taken a page from European operators and subsidized the Acer Aspire One netbook for $99.99, turning to Radio Shack for distribution. The deal requires it to be bundled with a two-year contract for a $60 per month data plan, which places the overall price tag at $1,500. If AT&T is willing to offer a similar deal on an Apple device, a revenue share with Jobs and Co. could eliminate that “too cheap for our taste” objection Apple has had.

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