Mac Musings

How Apple Could Make the 12" 'Books Even Smaller

Daniel Knight - 2005.04.05

Apple's 12" iBooks and PowerBooks are compact, lightweight, and competitively priced. The current 12" iBook measures 11.2" wide, 9.06" deep, and 1.35" thick. It weighs just 4.9 pounds.

A bit smaller, lighter, and faster, the current 12" PowerBook measures 10.9" wide, 8.6" deep, and 1.18" thick. It weighs just 4.6 pounds. The aluminum case makes it both smaller and lighter than the iBook, but the PowerBook also sells for US$500 more.

Neither of Apple's 12" offerings are small enough for some people. A few prefer handheld computers, which are much smaller and lighter while also falling way behind in terms of performance. The rest are looking for something with a full-sized keyboard that's still smaller than the 12" 'Books.

A recent entry in the subcompact laptop field is the Dell Latitude X1, which Charles Moore examines in this week's Road Warrior column. The compact X1 is 11.26" wide (wider than either of Apple's products), a mere 7.7" deep, and 0.98" thick. And it weighs just 2.5 pounds.

How does Dell do it?

They reduce the footprint by using a wide screen 12.1" WXGA (1280 x 768 pixel) display, which allows them to trim nearly an inch from the computer's depth in comparison to the 12" PowerBook.

Then they leave out the optical drive. The standard DVD-ROM drive is an external unit - one more thing to lug around. It makes you appreciate Apple building a Combo drive or SuperDrive into their 'Books.


The basic Latitude X1 is on sale for US$1,599, and that includes a 1.1 GHz Pentium M, 256 MB of RAM, a 30 GB hard drive, the previously mentioned external DVD drive, internal 802.11g wireless, and Microsoft Windows XP home edition.

There is no built-in Bluetooth, and memory is shared with video, so perhaps 32-64 MB of that 256 MB is dedicated to graphics.

By comparison, the 12" PowerBook G4 runs at 1.5 GHz, has 512 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, an internal Combo (CD-RW/DVD-ROM) drive, and Mac OS X, which is not available in a stripped down "home" version.

To match the PowerBook, you can order the X1 with 512 MB, Windows XP Professional, Bluetooth, and a Combo drive for US$1,819. You've still got the 30 GB drive; you can substitute a 60 GB drive for US$61 more, which brings the total to US$1,880.

And they used to say Macs cost more.

A MiniBook

Subcompacts are a premium market, and as Apple grows, it should look at this market.

Imagine if Apple put their designers and engineers to work developing a laptop using the 12.1" 1280 x 768 display in the Dell. We'd be looking at an 11.25" x 7.7" footprint, and we already know Apple can build a 1" thin laptop with an internal Combo drive or SuperDrive.

Dell doesn't seem to make any claims about battery life (although they do offer a battery with double capacity as an extra-cost option), and Apple has a reputation for long battery life, so don't expect any big compromises in that area, which means a bit more weight.

I'd guess Apple could bring a MiniBook in at under 4 pounds at the same size and shape as the Latitude X1 but with a longer lasting battery and an internal optical drive.

I'd spec the MiniBook out with 512 MB onboard memory (expandable to 1.5 GB), a 1.5 GHz G4 CPU, good video (not vampire video, which the Dell uses), a 40 GB hard drive, Bluetooth, and AirPort Extreme. Figure $1,699 with a Combo drive, $1,799 with a SuperDrive.

Or they could completely replace the current 12" PowerBook with the new widescreen design, which would probably trim $200 from these suggested prices.

And if Apple really wanted to turn heads, the could iBook-ify this, building the same hardware into a plastic enclosure, running the CPU a bit slower, and offering a slightly bigger, slightly heavier machine to replace the current 12" iBook while selling it for US$999.

A Bigger iBook

I'd also love to see Apple move to a widescreen design on the larger iBook, maybe 14" or 15" at 1280 x 854 or so (the same resolution as today's 15" PowerBook). Wider screens are more useful, and the 1152 x 768 resolution of my PowerBook G4 (400 MHz 2001 model) feels restrictive after using my eMacs at 1280 x 960.

The iBook design is overdue for refreshing, something more than just a boost in CPU speed. By going to a widescreen display, Apple could bring a new luster to the aging iBook line.

Odd to think that I'm suggesting that Apple in some ways copy Dell, but it's about time the shoe was on the other foot.