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Why a new $800 Apple laptop had better be pretty

If Apple does launch an $800 laptop next week, the design will, as usual, be the crucial factor.

There is something vaguely timber-shivering about every new Apple announcement. Especially for those Isaac Newtons whose head didn't just absorb the apple's bump, but the whole fruit, core and all.

The latest and most exciting rumor is that Cupertino's finest will, in a beautifully timed nod at the fact that most people have very little cash and even less credit, launch an $800 laptop.

This might cause certain elements at Dell and HP to scuttle off to the nearest executive restroom. Although perhaps the most surprising thing is that they would be surprised.

Of course there are those who fear that Apple might suddenly debase its image by pandering to the masses. But just as Target got into design to raise its brand image above the mass of the masses, Mercedes decided to stoop (but not really) into the runaround arena, by getting into Smart cars, A-Class cars. These were products people liked and then appreciated, regardless of their price.

Big Apple, Little Apple--they can all be pretty. CC ShielNiak

It's not about moving below or above your price point. It's about how you do it.

Appearing at a price point at which you've rarely been seen before (yes, there's Mac Mini, but I think we're talking laptops here) isn't going to suddenly devalue your brand. What is important is not that Apple might launch an $800 laptop, but whether the little thing will be cute.

Apple strokes people's feely bits like few other brands in the world.

And its brand has arguably never been stronger than it is today. No other laptop manufacturer has ever really successfully competed with Apple on design.

Please don't be cross with me, but it seems like every other laptop around looks like the portable equivalent of most General Motors' automobiles. Circa 1992.

So with no real threat at the core of its brand, Apple can tiptoe through its competitors' tulips and check out the undersoil.

I imagine an $800 Apple laptop may have fewer of those function thingies that the more refined devotee might enjoy. Perhaps not. But those who want to pay $800 for an Apple laptop may well be happy with a little less ringing and whistling. Many won't even hear the silence.

Especially given that most of them know that Apple products function in a simple, engaging and human way. That, plus looks, is the real definition of great design.

What is vital, though, to much of the target is Arm Candy Quality: what the new laptop will look like, how it will feel you're using it, and what it will be like to be seen with. Yes, that may sound frustrating for those who regard a laptop's capabilities as the tech equivalent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

But if Apple gets the feely parts right (and who can imagine it won't?) then the laundry bills around Austin, Texas, and other centers of laptop manufacture might just rise quite considerably.