Is there a Mini 'Book in Apple's Future?
April 6, 2005
It seems as though everyone else has weighed in on the "should Apple build a mini 'book?" debate, so I figured I would add my own two cents to the fray. (Read linked articles for references and more info)
I read two articles today, one by Charles Moore, and the other by Dan Knight. Both reference each other as well as previous articles, which also reference... - well, you get the point. They talk about everything from processing power to screen size to included hardware, and of course every one has a different set of expectations for what this pipe-dream must include in order to be a success. My own needs are pretty flexible. Actually, come to think of it, I don't really need anything of the sort. However, as Lisa Swanson of MacNet2 points out, the digital lifestyle has become the default way many of us live. For me to be interested in buying something like this it would have to be an extension of me, which is something I can't get from my 15" Titanium Powerbook, but something that I struggle to get from my Palm Tungsten. This is what I would want in an ideal world:
Comfortable processing power. There are tons of Mac users out there running perfectly happily on systems as old as four or five years. I have plenty of friends using older PowerMac G4 and even G3 systems. Indeed, there are entire communities (lowendmac.com, for one) dedicated to proving just how capable older Apple hardware remains. My own TiBook 667 DVI, which is pushing 3 years old now, is still more power than I need, even when running Panther and a whole slew of applications. It might not be a bad idea to have a high-end model sporting a zippy new processor, but for the rest of us an 867mHz or 1gHz G4 would more than suffice, especially since the idea (at least in my mind) isn't power computing on the road, but an extension of my digital lifestyle wherever I go. These processors haven't been out of production that long either, if at all, and are relatively cheap to produce.
Reasonable screen and keyboard sizes. It might be that my eyes are still young, but I don't see any problem with a smaller screen, especially if it cuts cost and bulk. I envision a comfortable keyboard with room for my fingers, but without keys that are unnecessary in this application. Assuming we are talking about using a touch screen interface with the option of external USB peripherals, that would make for a nice screen with a viewing area of 9.5" to 10". Full laptop-quality viewing? No, but we're not talking about a laptop here. And besides, how many people used the compact Macs, with their monochrome 9" displays, for hours a day not that long ago? We needn't be greedy and spoiled in this area.
It's all about the storage. This is what will make or break the deal for me. In order for the MiniBook to be an extension of my life, it needs to have enough room to fit all that stuff that makes up my life, as well as the RAM required to use it all. RAM will be especially crucial (no pun intended), since it would defeat the purpose of the MiniBook if I were out somewhere and had to pause for it to catch up when asked to do certain tasks. The base hard drive should be at least 60 gigs, with the option to order larger drives. A standard laptop hard drive would suffice, especially with prices as low as they are. Likewise, base RAM should be at least 512MB to make handling system software and applications easier.
Other drives? The afforementioned Dan Knight chides Dell for its use of an external DVD drive rather than an integrated unit on its new Latitude X1 laptop. I think he misses the point of the product, as well as overlooking one of the nicer aspects of OS-X: iSync. To me, adding an internal optical drive is a luxury, and therefore comes with all the sacrifices of luxury. It adds bulk and weight to a product that makes portability its goal, as well as creating an additional drain on the battery. The MiniBook could easily be made to operate in a manner similar to the iPod when information needed to be added and a full-featured machine was nearby. Firewire and firewire 800 are more than up to the task of transferring large chunks of this type of data, as well as syncing through iSync, a fact proved by the iPod. For those that absolutely need the drive, a relatively cheap firewire external alternative could easily be made available. Granted this will be another thing to carry, but if you are truly in a mobile situation you won't need it anyway. I, for one, don't ever see myself stopping in the middle of the supermarket to do a cd-based install. I would wait until I was stationary for that kind of thing, even if i was traveling, so I don't see the sacrifice.
Battery life. While this area would be crucial as well, I would have to agree with Mr. Knight in that I don't expect much beyond current norms in this area. While it would be wonderful to have more, I would settle for three to three and a half real hours of work time. With battery technology where it is today that is not asking a lot; certainly not too much.
The rest of the computer could be pretty straight-forward, with USB 2.0, firewire 800, 802.11b/g, and bluetooth standard. I am undecided as to whether or not it's worth it to include a PC card slot as well, but it's an idea anyway. Enclose all of this in a stylish and durable case and it becomes quite an attractive package.
With 867mHz 12" model Powerbooks showing up on DealMac refurbished for around $900 and under, it is reasonable to hope that my own version of this little pipe-dream would be sold for under $1000, maybe even around $750 or $800. This would put it right where everyone seems to be complaining of a gap in Apple's model line: in between the Mac Mini and the iBook. I don't know about the masses, but I would rush out to buy one.