Apple is about to go head to head with companies like MSI And Asus in the competitive netbook market according to Analyst Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research.

The American analyst believes Apple is about to launch a netbook at Macworld in 2009 entering the market for the first time and answering critics who were disappointed after the MacBook Air still wasn't deemed small enough or cheap enough to match up against the Asus Eee

"[The device] will provide web access, email, media playing, and essential applications at a single low price", says Gottheil with the device being "less intimidating than both PCs and Macs".

Offering software applications for the netbook via the App Store, users will it seems get a beefed up iPhone with keyboard and complete access to the aforementioned App Store.

"By controlling the software that can be loaded and the hardware that can be attached, Apple's device will be simpler, easier to use and more reliable than a PC, and will excel at the functions most required by users", he said.

Gottheil suggests that the device will come with "An optional online backup service [probably Apple's MobileMe] so the entire device can be restored".

Following comments from Apple's CEO Steve Jobs earlier in the year that Apple wasn't ready to get into the netbook market, Gottheil believes that rather than try and match the usual $500 price point in the US for netbooks, Apple would likely try and sell the new smaller unit for around $599 with it becoming available later in the year.

According to the article the time between the announcement and the launch will be to prime the developer pump, as Apple did earlier this year when it announced it would open the iPhone to third-party programs four months before it launched the iPhone 3G.

According to the analyst if it was simply a stripped-down MacBook Apple would run the risk of cannibalising sales of its higher-priced, and higher-margin, notebooks.

The answer, supposedly, is to create one that offers software via the App Store with Apple's device being simpler, easier to use and more reliable than a PC.

"I don't necessarily expect it to be a touch screen", he told Computerworld. "In fact, I don't think it will. But I do think that the interface would present simple, straight-forward choices".

Unfortunately Gottheil does offer a caveat: "I don't have any inside information", he told Computerworld, "This is just by triangulation".

We will keep you posted.