Would you pay $849 for a new MacBook? by Philip Elmer-DeWitt @FortuneMagazine May 3, 2009, 2:09 PM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons A report last week that Apple AAPL is preparing to slash prices on its entry level MacBook and iMac models has triggered a flurry of speculation about what the new price points might be. According to AppleInsider‘s Kasper Jade, Apple sees the cuts — which could come in the next month or two — as an “interim solution” to the growing popularity of netbooks, those sub-compact laptops that Steve Jobs once dismissed as “a piece of junk” but which are flying off the shelves at $299 to $349 apiece. For example Acer, whose Aspire One netbooks are Amazon’s bestsellers, saw its U.S. market share grow 49.4% (to 13.6%) in the first quarter of 2009, according to Gartner Research, even as Apple’s share shrank to 7.4%, down 1% year to year. Mac sales actually fell last quarter for the first time in nearly six years. How low will Apple go to turn that around? Jade’s reporting — based on unnamed sources “familiar with the matter” — is fuzzy on that point, but in the comment stream he makes it clear that he’s talking about price reductions in the range of $100 to $150. Applying these cuts to the current entry-level machines, we get: White 13-inch MacBook: $849 – $899, reduced from $999 20-inch 2.66 GHz aluminum iMac: $969 – $1,019, reduced from $1,119 With gross margins last quarter of 36.4% — up from 34.7% in Q1 — Apple can certainly afford to sacrifice some profit to grow share. As AppleInsider points out, Apple last month started selling 2GHz iMacs to the education market for $899. The real questions is, will it work? Will consumers who are buying $349 Acers — or like Microsoft’s MSFT Lauren, $699 HP HPQ Pavilions — give the MacBook a second look if it’s priced at $849? Would you?