My Turn

Synergy Time for Apple

Tor Fosheim - June 20, 2000

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

I've had some thoughts brewing for a while on the future of Mac hardware, its strengths and core technologies, and how they can merge to form some really cool products. The radically new design wave at Apple which gave us the iMac, hasn't stopped yet - and I'm sure Apple is full of crazy thoughts that will eventually land us the next Great Product, maybe as soon as Macworld in July.

The wave at Apple has been synergy from the get-go. The iMac was a merge between compact Macs, portable PowerBooks, and powerful and expandable desktops. The first iMac was essentially a PowerBook motherboard with a monitor on top, a few different ports, and a beautiful case thrown in for good measure.

I expect this line of thinking is still dominant at Apple, and this is intended to be a small peek into what kinds of ideas might be circulating around Infinite Loop.

Make the PowerBook display removable

Imagine not having to crouch over a PowerBook every time you need to write something. With the screen placed just above the keyboard, the PowerBook makes a great companion on the road, but when it comes down to sitting down and using it in the office, its not very ergonomic. In fact, it can be downright terrible for those who don't have industrial-strength backs. My back always ends up in a curl, and I have to take frequent breaks from my work. This isn't Apple's fault; it's an inherent design flaw of the laptop concept.

But no more.

There are very few cables that run from the 'Book to the screen, and there's a lot plastic connecting it to the base unit. Why is it stuck there? Imagine how neat it would be to remove the display at the click of button or push of a lever, extend a bar at the back and, voilà, have a state-of-the-art TFT desktop display! And when you're ready to go on the road, the display simply clicks back on, complete with an Apple-logo at the back.

Of course, with the current 'Books you can simply attach an external screen, but I have yet to see a price/performance screen that can beat the one on my 'Book. It's simply too beautiful for me to ever want to close it and go with a CRT, which usually doesn't sport the same crisp and fresh display. With a detachable screen, we could just remove it and put it on the desktop with some kind of support mechanism, turning a PowerBook into a desktop machine in seconds. Also, for presentations you can control the screen with mouse and keyboard without taking up all the space in front of it, forcing the people who should be watching to instead watch you neck.

The AirPad or iPad

Apple doesn't want anyone thinking they have a PDA in the works. They probably don't, but that's just because the PDA is yesterdays news - and old technology. The new Apple isn't about taking old technology into new wrapping; it's simply not enough of a challenge for the likes of Jobs and Ive. They'll be looking to take the Palm-relationship to the next logical level and still fill the box-beyond-the-box hole in their product lineup.

Apple's Next Great Product could very well be the AirPad or iPad, running a blazing fast low-powered G3 with a touch sensitive screen and AirPort. All that in a package the size of a coffee-table book, about 1 inch thick with a vertical 600x800 display (or, if were lucky, 768x1024).

Add the handwriting-recognition from Newton, remove the mouse and keyboard, and you a giant-sized colour Palm or a perfect web reader for the home.

It's the perfect home companion. You could read the newspaper anywhere and get recipes off the web while in the kitchen - all without wires, without worrying about stains and dirt, and without any significant weight to carry around.

The iPad would sport the same rugged design as the iBook, of course, and could even be waterproof so you can read today's New York Times while you shave or when you're in the bathtub.

The iBox

This has been a favourite among the Mac press for a while, and Apple still hasn't denied it to my knowledge. Essentially a monitorless iMac in the slimmest ever case brought to market, the iBox would bring Apple back to its set-top dreams without compromising the desktop role, as it would have both TV-out for set-top television use as well as a monitor capability that allows the monitor to simply slide on top of the box - much like the early pizza cases of the first LCs.

We might even see a wireless solution, with the iBox containing both CPU and keyboard, with both AirPort for internet and a small base for receiving TV signals.

The size of the iBox would be its killer feature, since it might also fit into a briefcase and be very portable. We're talking really slim here, smaller than a Vaio. You could take it to meetings and hook it up to a projector, monitor, or TV wherever you go.

Basically, all these things could fit into Steve Jobs' Beyond the Box strategy, especially since in the not-so-far future there won't be any boxes as we know them, and the raw processing power you can get from IBMs new G3 chips lets you put a full G3 processor into a really small package that communicates wirelessly with peripherals around it.

None of these ideas are really radical, and none of the technology is beyond Apple's reach. The most interesting part for Apple is probably price/performance and parts concerns.

So what part of this is unfounded rumours and crazy dreams? All of it. But Apple has been know to turn dreams into reality.

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