Mac nano? Brick? How Small Could Apple Make a Mac?
I don't know how much stock you put in the rumor sites, but they've been speculating about a Mac nano for some time, and the latest rumor is that Apple's next Mac is code named "Brick".
Apple has become an undisputed leader in small computing - the iPhone and iPod touch put Mac OS X on about as small a package as can be made usable, the Mac mini leads the small PC market, and the MacBook Air shows just how thin Apple can build a notebook.
Then there's that patent Apple has for a dockable computer, essentially an iMac display with a plug-and-play tiny Mac that docks to the back of it.
It all gets you to wondering about the future of personal computing. Are there practical limits to how small a personal computer can be?
I've been thinking about this for quite a while. With a low power CPU, notebook components, and either a Solid State Drive or 1.8" (iPod) hard drive, Apple could probably build a modular Mac as small as the iPod classic - probably with the same components at the heart of the MacBook Air, minus the keyboard, mouse, and display.
Imagine that, a tiny computer that has USB 2.0, mini-DVI, and some sort of dock connector for power and to use with a dock that provides additional ports and options. You've got your Bluetooth, WiFi, enough RAM for most users most of the time, a decently sized drive (say 120 GB hard drive or SSD), video support for most of today's monitors, and a tiny computer that you can carry in your pocket.
Include a battery so the computer could be put to sleep and transported between home and school and office and LAN party. Give it enough power to run for a few hours without an AC adapter.
This would be a computer you could use with a wireless mouse and keyboard plus a monitor. Or a USB mouse and keyboard plus a monitor. Bring your own keyboard, mouse, and monitor - sound familiar?
Imagine that Apple made several versions of this Mac nano - some with 1.8" drives for ultimate portability and battery life, some with 2.5" notebook drives for more flexibility and decent battery life (probably using a bigger battery), and a third model that takes a 3.5" hard drive and uses the battery just for sleep mode.
Now imagine a range of peripherals for these little Macs: docks with VGA ports, additional USB 2.0 ports, maybe ethernet and FireWire as well. Displays that let them work like an iMac. Desktop docks that provide expansion slots and additional drive bays. Oh, and let's not forget the USB-powered SuperDrive that works with the MacBook Air.
And what about clip-on displays in a range of sizes, devices that would allow touch input and include a higher capacity battery. Instant tablet Mac!
Or why not a dockable notebook module that includes a display, keyboard, trackpad, battery, and extra ports. Choose your display size, dock your 1.8" or 2.5" Mac nano, and you've got a notebook computer.
Finally, add a desktop module that contains a more powerful CPU, an optical drive, a higher capacity hard drive, lots of ports and a few expansion slots, and docks with the Mac nano. Plug in the nano, boot, and it will run from the nano's hard drive.
One device could be at the heart of a tablet, a notebook, or a desktop Mac - or it could be used as a computer in its own right.
Offer the tiny version in hard drive and SSD models, the 2.5" version in two CPU speeds and with room to expand RAM, and the 3.5" version in two or three speed options with support for up to 8 GB of RAM. Maybe even include an ExpressCard slot or two in the 2.5" and 3.5" models.
This wouldn't kill off Apple's notebook computers, as the integrated solution would be cheaper than the modular one, but it could create a huge paradigm shift in personal computing. Buy the tablet or notebook or desktop dock with the features you need, add the dock, and you're ready to go. Need a faster CPU? Buy a new nano.
This would probably kill off the Mac mini and Apple TV in short order.
Could something this be behind the Brick rumors?
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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