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Chinese newspaper says Apple building a netbook

The Chinese-language Commercial Times is reporting Monday that a well-known touch-panel supplier will begin delivering displays for an Apple 'netbook' sometime later this year.

According to the report, which was relayed by DigiTimes, Taiwan-based Wintek will start shipping the panels to the Cupertino-based Mac maker sometime during the third quarter of the year for an official launch at an unknown date.

"Wintek revealed that it is currently working with Apple to develop some new products, but it said it does not know what applications the new products are for," the DigiTimes report said. "Wintek added that no shipment schedule has been worked out yet, but shipments are likely to begin in the second half of the year."

In its original report, which isn't accessible on the web, the Commercial Times reportedly went on to say that Quanta Computer will be the company responsible for assembling the new computers.

The move would appear contrary to comments on the netbook segment from members of Apple's top brass, who in recent discussions with Wall Street analysts have downplayed the market for the stripped down, sub-$600 notebooks.

"As we look at the netbook category, that's a nascent category," Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said last fall. "As best as we can tell, there's not a lot of them being sold."

More recent criticisms of the segment came this past January from Apple chief operating office Tim Cook, who noted that netbooks are "principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays."

"We don't think people will be pleased with those products," he added. "It's a category we watch, we've got some ideas here, but right now we think the products are inferior and will not provide an experience to customers they're happy with."

Unlike DigiTimes, which has proven to be been hit or miss with its forward-looking Apple reports, the Commercial Times has generally been more reliable with its calls on the company. That said, a cursory review reveals that its report Monday on netbooks would represent the newspaper's boldest prediction in some time.

Assuming the report carries some truth, there's also the possibility the displays could be headed for Apple's much rumored Newton/Web tablet of similar proportions, and not a traditional netbook.