PowerBook Lite Dreams

2000: Author’s Note: This article is purely speculative – no John Does or rumor sites were involved its writing. This is solely based on what the author hopes Apple could have in the works.

Tangerine Fusion

PowerBook 240c with floppy

PowerBook 2400c

Apple’s PowerBook 2400c was its last “subnotebook” model, generally a notebook computer that weighs under five pounds and is smaller and thinner than its brandmates. Apple actually invented the subnotebook concept with its PowerBook Duo series. In order to save space and weight, these computers used external floppy drives and port expanders (a.k.a. docks).

The subnotebook industry’s presence has skyrocketed since Apple discontinued the 2400c two years ago, which was dropped, incidentally, for its slow sales. I believe the time is right for Apple to introduce a new small sub-PowerBook. It could perhaps be called the “PowerBook Lite,” or, in homage to the PowerBook line’s 10th birthday next October, the “10th Anniversary PowerBook.” Or, more true to Apple’s other product lines, maybe the “PowerBook Rectangular Prism.”

Basic Features

  • 500 MHz PowerPC 750CX/750CXe (G3e) processor
  • 20+ GB Ultra ATA/66 hard drive
  • Integrated ATI Rage Mobility M4 4x AGP-based graphics subsystem
  • Miniaturized Harman/Kardon Odyssey-based sound system
  • Fixed internal 6x DVD-ROM drive (unlike the 2400c and many other sub-notebooks on the market today, which use external drives)
  • 4 to 6 hour battery life, from a battery similar but smaller than the one used in the iBook
  • 128 MB of DDR RAM
  • A/V port
  • USB 1.1, 400 megabit FireWire, 10/100 megabit ethernet, 56K modem, and AirPort slot

Industrial Design and Display

The PowerBook Lite would have a noticeably less square-shaped appearance than the 2400c, due to the use of a full-sized keyboard and a wide-aspect screen. Yes, the PowerBook Lite’s LCD screen would use the Cinema Display’s HDTV format, and this is crucial to the design of the computer. The shape of a widescreen monitor is significantly closer to the shape of a full-sized keyboard, so the screen design is the main determining factor in the size and shape of a modern notebook computer’s case.

With the PowerBook Lite, you can have a very compact unit without sacrificing the ability to type comfortably. And thus, since the HDTV shape is not as skinny as the wider 9:16 widescreen movie format, you’ll still have ample palm rests. Also, the shape of the screen makes it great for watching widescreen and anamorphic DVDs, without being too thin for standard-sized ones.

Apple’s current PowerBooks are 1.7″ thick (the 2400c was 1.9″ thick). Sacrificing features like swappable drive bays and PC Card slots will help a bit, as will the use of stronger polycarbonate plastic, of which less is needed for the same strength as current PowerBook plastics. Apple could surely get depth down to 1.5″ and have enough room for everything. That’s on par with the color versions of the Duos, Apple’s original subnotebook line.

  • Weight, lower than previous Apple subnotebooks due to the use of lighter plastics and components, is offset by the use of an internal DVD-ROM and a high-capacity battery.
  • Screen size: 13.1″ TFT
  • Screen resolutions: Native: 1024 x 640 Scaled: 800 x 500, 768 x 480.
  • Closed dimensions (width x height x depth) 12.5″ x 8.9″ x 1.5″
  • Weight: Between 4 and 5 pounds

These dimensions account for the width of a full-sized keyboard plus space for the polycarbonate enclosure. I then created height from that of an HDTV-format screen the width of the keyboard, again accounting for extra space from the enclosure as well as that of the clamshell hinge mechanism. 13.1″ is the resulting screen size, surprisingly fitting perfectly between the current iBook and PowerBook screens, which are 12.1″ and 14.1″ respectively. Total size and weight is much smaller than both the PowerBook (12.7″ x 10.4″ x 1.7″, 5.7-6.1 pounds) and iBook (13.5″ x 11.6″ x 1.8″, 6.6-6.8 pounds.) Though it has a different shape, it’s similar in overall size to the 2400c (10.5″ x 10.5″ x 1.9″, 4.4 pounds.)

Software and Release Date

The PowerBook Lite would likely come with a software bundle similar to the G4 Cube, with basic internet apps, FAXstf, iTools plug-ins, and iMovie 2.0.1, but no AppleWorks, Quicken, or Pangea games.

If Apple has such a project in the works, the PowerBook Lite could be released as soon as Macworld Expo San Francisco 2001. If it’s released later, it could see forthcoming technologies like FireWire 800 and could come bundled with the release version of Mac OS X.

The new sub-PowerBook could be Apple’s hottest product yet. It has the great core features of the iBook with the processing closer to that of the PowerBook. And, unlike Apple’s last new product line, the Power Mac G4 Cube, the PowerBook Lite has a clearly defined focus: mobility. The PowerBook Lite would be for people who are on the move all day and demand less weight, who are frequent flyers, or who have very limited desk space. Also, as the Cube is to the G4 tower, it would appeal to people who simply want the oomph of a PowerBook but don’t need its expansion capabilities.

I think the best part about the product is that its specifications and design could allow it to be priced well under the PowerBook. I believe Apple would be able to safely price it at about $2,199.

Titanium PowerBook G4Update: Apple introduced a new widescreen PowerBook at Macworld Expo in January 2001 – a model even thinner than speculated here. And it was more powerful, with a larger display, and it didn’t have to sacrifice the PC Card slot. The 15″ Titanium PowerBook G4 measured 13.4″ x 9.5″ x 1.0″ and weighed in at 5.3 lb. It was available with a 400 or 500 MHz G4 CPU and had a built-in DVD-ROM drive. The 15.2″ display had a native resolution of 1152 x 768 (a 3:2 aspect ratio), much higher than speculated here, and included two USB 1.1 ports, FireWire 400, and space for an AirPort card. Not quite a sub-notebook, and criticized for its lack of expansion bays, the Titanium PowerBook was a hit for Apple. Today’s 15″ MacBooks are its descendants.