The 'Book Page

MyBook: A More Portable Mac

Dan Knight - 1999.11.16 - Tip Jar

How small a computer can you make using a full-size keyboard?

The keyboard on the PowerBook G3 (Lombard) and iBook represents a minimum size for many typists. Measuring just 10.75" wide, about 4.2" deep, and a fraction of an inch thick, it establishes some minimum dimensions for a typist-friendly portable computer.

Compare this with buying a Palm organizer (4.5" x 3.1" x 0.4", 4 oz.) and the GoType! keyboard (10" x 4" x 0.75", 11 oz.), which meets the need for a full-size keyboard but is a cumbersome two-piece affair with a separate organizer and keyboard. It's clever, but not as convenient at a true portable.

Sony PowerPageLast week, Macs Only! suggested that Apple look at the Sony PowerPage (page is in Japanese) and consider letting Sony OEM a subcompact PowerBook.

I like the idea!

Looking at the PowerPage, I'd guess it's about the minimum size for a computer without shrinking the keyboard. I'm not quite sure what type of pointer device Sony is using - it's not a trackpad. Maybe it's like the IsoPoint TrackBar used on the Outbound, one of the first Mac-compatible portables.

Whatever it is, such a compact machine must use a smaller input device than any trackpad I've ever seen. The only real alternative would be using the screen itself for input. This would be great for some types of work, but it could be a real nuisance for any keyboard-based work.

The MyBook (my name for it) would be about 11" wide, leaving just a bit of room on either side of the keyboard for the case. I'm guessing it would be about 5.5" deep, leaving room for a pointer in front of the keyboard and a hinge behind it. It should also be thin, perhaps as thin as 1.5", which should leave enough room for a hard drive, a heat-sinked G3 processor, a battery, and an AirPort card.

I'm guessing weight would be around 4 pounds, and maybe even less.

At this size, the screen could be a bit over 10" wide and around 5" high. Using IBM's new 123 pixel-per-inch technology, a 1280 by 640 screen would measure 10.4" by 5.2". Although the dimensions are a bit odd, the Mac OS has always been able to handle unusual screen sizes with ease. It would certainly set MyBook apart from most laptops with their 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 screens.

What MyBook wouldn't have: an internal CD-ROM or any type of drive bay. By putting USB and FireWire ports on the computer, the user could add almost any type of storage device as needed without bloating the size of the portable MyBook.

And there are some neat things Apple could do with the design

  • Touch sensitive screen, like the Newton had.
  • Hinge that allows the lid to sit flush with the bottom of the case, letting it act like a huge Mac OS Newton with a color screen.
  • A rotate 90° option that allows turning the screen on its side (640 x 1280) when used as a PDA.
  • A rotate 180° option that lets you set MyBook up like a pup tent for display purposes.
  • Ability to use AA batteries in the field.

Of course, it would have all the usual connectivity options: 10/100 ethernet, AirPort, and a 56k modem.

Most of all, in addition to being light and compact, MyBook would have to be rugged. Whether that means a metal case, heavier plastics, or rubber bumpers (like the iBook) I leave to the engineers.

MyBook would be exactly what a lot of Mac users had hoped the iBook would be: an easily toted Mac, not a huge colorful laptop. As long as Apple uses acceptable color schemes, it could be at home in the boardroom and the classroom - and Duo owners would finally have an excuse to upgrade.

Editor's note: Apple has come close to these ideals with the 11.6" MacBook Air, released in October 2010. It has a full-sized keyboard, measures 11.8" wide, 7.56" deep, and under 0.7" thick, and it weighs just a bit over 2 lb. The display has a resolution of 1366 x 768, far more practical than the screen proposed in this article, and it uses a large trackpad.

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