The Walt Disney Co. is no stranger to the consumer electronics business, enjoying big success with its Hannah Montana MP3 players, digital cameras, flat-panel TVs and the like.
But today's entry into the netbook arenais the company's most ambitious plan yet to seize on the success of electronics and a consumer's insatiable need for gadgets.
So enter Disney's new NetPal netbook, made in partnership with Asus, the Taiwanese laptop maker, running on an Intel Atom microprocessor, 160GB harddrive, built-in Wi-Fi, an 8.9 inch display, Microsoft Windows inside and sold exclusively at Toys "R" Us. It'll start shipping in a few weeks.
This might seem a huge departure for a company whose biggest shareholder is Apple's Steve Jobs, who has publicly rebuked the whole netbook concept. More on that in a second.
Chris Heatherly, Disney VP of Electronics says, "We think there's a significant opportunity to grow the market for laptops with kids."
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And that indeed might be true. Market researcher says the netbook market will grow 300 percent this year over last in the segment Disney is targeting, so the company certainly thinks the timing is right.
So Disney is unveiling two versions, the blue Magic for boys and the pink Princess for girls, designing the devices from the ground up rather than merely slapping the Disney logo on a PC already on the market. The $349 device is targeted to 6 - 12 year olds, fully customizable with their favorite Disney characters.
"They really want a simple, but powerful experience. They want to surf the internet, they want to be able to do simple email, they want to be able to do simple word processing and documents," says Heatherly.
Still, as compelling as the Disney devices might be, they come into a market already dominated by Dell and Hewlett Packard with netbooks targeted at kids. But Heatherly remains undaunted, saying "we're bringing a lot to the party, we're bringing great, fun Disney content for kids to play, we're bringing a lot of security for the parents."
But I just had to ask about the Steve Jobs issue. Netbooks are the scourge of the industry, he has said, offering no value proposition, even as Apple is rumored to be working on a netbook or tablet PC of its own.
All I got from Heatherly on this issue was uncomfortable, shifty eyes, and nervous laughter. It was kind of funny.
Meantime, Disney shareholders hope the new netbooks let them laugh all the way to the bank.
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