Connect to share and comment

Apple sends twitters through Taiwan

Is Taiwan's battered tech industry set for a "netbook" boost? "Um.... maybe."

A low-cost Asus Eee PC laptop inside a mall in Taipei February 25, 2009. Netbooks have made headlines since their 2007 launch, making PCs accessible to millions of non-traditional users. But their cheap cost could also carry a steep price tag due to lax security that makes them easier prey for viruses and hackers. (Nicky Loh/Reuters)

TAIPEI — It's the hot rumor of the week in Taiwan, and throughout the tech world: Apple Computer may be getting into the "netbook" business.

A Taiwanese business daily reported the news Monday, saying the computer giant would partner with two Taiwanese contractors on the project. Dow Jones lent the story more heft in a report here.

Netbooks — pioneered commercially by Taiwanese firm Asustek — are cheap, mini-laptops designed mainly for surfing the Web while on the go.

Since Asustek jump-started the market segment 17 months ago with its popular Eee PC, all the other big players — HP and Dell from the U.S., Taiwan's Acer — have gotten in the game too.

Almost all netbooks are made by Taiwanese contractors. The island punches far above its weight in the global tech sector, supplying the big brands with much of the world's laptops, motherboards, flat panels and computer monitors.

Amid the global downturn, netbooks are a rare bright spot. Tech consultancy Gartner reported on March 2 that although 2009 would be the worst-ever year for the PC industry as a whole (with an 11.9 percent decline in shipments from last year), netbook sales are due to nearly double.

"Worldwide mini-notebook shipments are forecast to total 21 million units in 2009, up from 2008 shipments of 11.7 million units. Mini-notebooks will cushion the overall PC market slowdown, but they remain too few to prevent the market's steep decline."

Brits, French and Germans have especially cottoned on to the tiny tablets. In Western Europe, total PC shipments actually defied the downturn. They surged 12 percent year-on-year in the last quarter of 2008, said Gartner, led by growth in "netbooks."

So it's no wonder that Apple too might be fixing to get in the business.

But are the reports true?

According to several "industry insiders" I spoke to who were not willing to be named, "Er ... um ... no comment."