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Once upon a time, you used to choose your computer based on hardware specifications. "Does this laptop have the latest Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) processor? How much memory will I get? Can it read CDs, a DVD, or maybe even a Blu-Ray disc?"
But you may have noticed that the hardware is getting cheaper, faster, and better -- all at once. Nowadays, you have to expect that even the cheapest and slowest systems you'd get from Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) or Radio Shack (NYSE: RSH ) can handle any reasonable computing task you throw at them.
So now that the hardware has become a commodity, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) will sell kid-friendly netbooks whose biggest competitive advantage will be the Disney branding. Working with Taiwanese notebook expert ASUS, Disney has designed a Netpal line of pastel-kissed netbooks with very handsome tech specs and an attractive $349 starting price tag.
Due to hit store shelves at Toys-R-Us and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) in late July, the Netpal comes with LCD-backlit screens, Intel Atom processors, up-to-the-minute 802.11n wireless networking, and 16GB solid-state drives as an option. Even a low-end netbook sure beats the pants off the best toy "computers" my kids got from the likes of Leapfrog (NYSE: LF ) and JAKKS Pacific (Nasdaq: JAKK ) -- and this one beats many grown-up netbooks. Heck, I'd be pretty happy using a machine like that, if I could only get used to the minuscule 9" netbook screen.
I just can't make up my mind between a Princess Pink chassis or the Magic Blue one. Then I'd have to dress up my desktop -- will Hannah Montana get mad if I choose the Toy Story theme over hers? And I'm not sure the parental control filters would let me do my work properly.
All jokes aside, it is clear that Disney wants you to see a Disney computer that is fun and safe for kids to use. The technical components are in fact impressive, but Disney just wants you to know that they're good enough for today's kids. The commoditized waters have become warm enough for the Mouse to dip a toe into new revenue streams.
Conversely, this could be the start of a terrible trend for system builders of Dell's class, as toy makers start to steal the youngest parts of their customer base. And of course, I expect JAKKS and Leapfrog and all the rest of the toy makers to start thinking about how to brand and launch their own kiddie-style netbooks; this is but the first shot in a very long war.
Further Foolishness for the young 'uns: