Apple's first 'Mac netbook' will hit the market in the first half of 2009, according to Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil. However, the analyst said Apple is unlikely to take on the likes of the Asus Eee PC and Acer one when it comes to price or form factor.

Gottheil told Computerworld US that the MacBook maker will launch a lightweight, low-price system to cater for growing demand for cheaper laptops.

"Apple is facing the possibility that as the economic news gets worse, that they're increasingly pricing themselves out of an important market," said Gottheil. "Economic conditions are accelerating this."

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Currently, Apple's lowest-priced laptop is the older, white-cased MacBook , which the company retained when it unveiled new unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros last month. That MacBook lists for £719.

Gottheil said Apple's response to the netbook market would likely come in the form of a $599 MacBook. That converts to £395, but the UK price would likely be much higher than that.

He based that on comments a month ago by Apple CEO Steve Jobs , who dismissed any desire to play in the netbook market as currently defined. "We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that," Jobs said at the time.

Gottheil's betting that Apple will stress light and thin over width and depth. "I think this will be more paper-sized, with more screen than most netbooks," he said.