Ode to the 12” Powerbook: 14 Wishes for A New Hyper-Portable Macbook

by Hadley Stern Dec 29, 2006

I’ve had a few Mac portables over the years although granted I arrived to the scene a tad late with a Pismo. It was a work machine but I coveted it like it was my own. Suddenly I was free to go everywhere and anywhere with all my stuff. The Pismo, in hindsight, was a great machine and offered some of the flexibility that my Mac Book Pro doesn’t offer now. In particular the ability to have hot swap bays wherein I could have two batteries going at the same time for cross country flights was a godsend. This was also back in the day of the omnipresent zip drive (how is Iomega still in business today?) so I also had that hot swappable device.

My next powerbook was one that I bought myself, a 12” powerbook. Being a designer it was a secondary machine mostly for writing. Apart from penning many thousands of words for Apple Matters it also became the machine I did all the writing for iPod and iTunes hacks on. The 12” powerbook is an absolutely fantastic portable machine. And as much as I love my 15” MacBook Pro it isn’t a portable in the sense that the 12” was. I still miss writing on its keyboard which was full-size and has a much better feel than the MacBook Pros. Plus, I never had to go to the genius bar to get them to pop keys back in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve looked at the Macbooks. Nice machines and all but that extra inch makes a huge difference. The 12 inch powerbook was a power-users hyper-portable machine, and Apple needs to bring something back like it. I don’t want the hyper-miniature Sharp like experience (I already have a blackberry, thank you very much) but I do want an Apple portable that is truly portable. Here is my wish-list

1. 10-12"inch screen
2. minimum 1024x768 resolution
3. airport (of course)
4. bluetooth (of course)
5. full-size, or darn near close, keyboard
6. magsafe with a small powerbrick, don’t pull a Mac-mini and make the power brick half the size of the portable
7. firewire 800, make this a true power portable
8. built in evdo
9. PC card slot
10. built in isight
11. built in gps
12. Shockingly thin and shockingly sturdy
13. Good battery life
14. An Apple-made docking device, much like IBM does for the (s)ThinkPads. Apple should do this across the portable line.

and finally, please please don’t make it out of the iBook/Macbook plastic. This should be a machine in the powerbook lineage. How is Apple going to do this. Others, and our very own James Stoup (one of the first to write about this, I believe) posits that a flash hard drive might be the way to go.

Apple already proved, by the numbers, that the portable line is very profitable. I have no doubt that there would be a ton of road-warriors who would snap up an Intel successor to the 12” PowerBook. What do you think? What would you like to see in a Hyperbook MacBook Pro


  • My humble opinion is that Apple stopped employing proper keyboards in its portable line somewhen around the G4/G3 switch. I have tasted near all the portables since my G3 Wallstreet, and NONE came close, period.

    To your list:
    1. 10” would be fine with me
    5. I’d also be fine with a swivel style tablet wink
    8. Little use in most areas of Europe
    12. Shockingly light! This means a good bit lighter than Macbooks!
    13. Good? We want shocking battery life!

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I agree with almost all of the 14 items on the wish-list:

    #8 EVDO and #11 GPS are definitely nice to have, but not absolutely necessary.

    #12 light, light, light <3lbs, please!

    Unfortunately, I think for this type of laptop, some people will lament leaving out some features.  To get the unit lighter and thinner, the optical drive will probably need to be removed (I don’t mind because I rarely use CD/DVD any more except to install).

    #15 - dedicated video card ala Macbook PRO series.  Please don’t cripple the unit with an integrated video card.

    The docking station is an interesting idea even though most other laptop manufacturers seem to be moving away from this idea.  What I would suggest as an alternative would be an external battery charger so you can swap batteries in and out.  What’s the point of having a 2nd battery if you can’t charge it when it’s not in the laptop?

    hansmixer had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 4
  • Considering components and pricing - I think there’s a few items on your list which may appeal to the überroadwarrior, but not to the millions of buyers Apple would like to target with such a computer. In point:

    7. firewire 800
    8. built in evdo
    9. PC card slot
    11. built in gps

    7 and 9 are items I’ve had in my PowerBook for years and never used, yet I consider myself an 8 on the 0-10 power users scale. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay for those components in something who’s design is portability over power. Likewise 8 and 11 are cool gimmicks but the price (not just money price but also size, weight, and power consumption) of those features would not be worth it for 90 something percent of the users.

    I agree with the previous post the shockingly LIGHT is a key feature.

    Would you consider NO keyboard an option in your dream machine? No worries about the keys popping off then. The mockups of a Mac OS X tablet computer floating around on the web lately have a huge appeal. Ever wondered why when Apple blew up the Newton team, the only person left on the payroll was the handwriting expert? And what was all the Inkwell jazz about? Newton done right - with Mom (Mac OS Mobile). Now THAT would rock!! And for you mad touch typists - here’s your USB plug in keyboard.


    Sharkey! had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Realisticly speaking, a MacBook Pro about 10 to 12-inches is going to be a bit small internally to fit all of the extra goodies that you want in it. So. EV-DO? That’s out. GPS? That’s out. Firewire 800? That’s out, too! PC Card slot? Maybe, but you’re gonna be pushing it. Everything else is doable though.

    I agree with Bad Beaver: Apple does need to make a Tablet-based laptop. I say give it a swivel touch screen, the new Samsung Flash-based Hard Drive, Airport (802.11n), Bluetooth, IR and let the battery be able to be charged via a FireWire port. That way when I sync my tablet with my iMac it charges at the same time. Lose the DVD drive and re-configure OS X so that all of my information (emails, preferences, etc.) stores itself on the flash drive as a .plist file: They’re easier to write and they take up less romm on the Hard Drive. Also, they should right an application that would allow me to sync the tablet to my master Mac without having to put the tablet in Target Disk Mode (takes to long).

    Make a slot in the casing to hold a stylus/pen and give the stylus/pen a rechargeble battery that charges when the stylus/pen is inside the slot. OOOOOH!!! And for a cool factor effect, give the outer casing to the tablet a display section like the new ASUS laptops so I can bring up my widgets without having to open up the tablet. Then you really could call that Dashboard. Man I would SO buy that if they ever made one…...

    Frank 'viperteq' Young had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 32
  • I think setting up the specs for a laptop is far more individual than for a desktop or a server. For me, the emphasis would be thus:
    1. Extreme battery life
    2. Very light
    3. Thin
    4. Cool (meaning, NOT hot)
    All of which indicate a FlashRAM-based laptop.
    5. Light and sturdy enclosure
    6. Widescreen
    For me, power is not that important; ease of use on the go is.

    Peter J. Pedersen had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Oh Sharkey!, the Newton was pretty much done right wink I’d rather say it was not properly taken care of.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I also want a smaller portable.  A lighter ibook G4 would do.

    This is a long read, but I’ve put a lot of thought into it.


    overall, it goes along the lines of the previous posters, smaller, lighter, cooler, longer battery life.

    - gws

    gwschreyer had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 23
  • I think there’s definitely a market for a 12” MacBook Pro. I own a 15.4” one and I love it, but it’s a bit too big to carry around everywhere.

    I want a powerful machine that’s portable. In fact, I’m looking for a second-hand 12” PowerBook for class.

    Smaran had this to say on Dec 29, 2006 Posts: 15
  • A lighted keybo great feature in my humble opinion.A 12, 13.3 or 14 inch lcd all fine for me.A tablet or new model 12” pb exciting products in my mind.

    isurfer had this to say on Dec 30, 2006 Posts: 1
  • The lighted keyboard eats a lot of space and power if you want it to be of the quality found in the Macbook Pro.

    Do you think we will soon see HDMI ports in portables?

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Dec 30, 2006 Posts: 371
  • Thinking about it, it would be awesome to have an ultraportable able to drive a 30” display.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Dec 30, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I sort of agree, but I think your not being radical enough. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. What we need is a radical departure from the current laptop, and radical departures are what Apple is famous for after all.

    Ditching the LCD and replacing it with and EPD, and getting rid of the HDD and replacing it with flash memory would not only get rid of the two major power drains on a laptop, vastly increasing the battery life, but give us the holy grail of “instant on”. No more rebooting…

    Alasdair Allan had this to say on Dec 31, 2006 Posts: 5
  • Excellent article and follow-up comments.

    I use my 12-inch Powerbook for DJ-ing, and nothing in the current line would work well for me as a replacement. I need the small footprint (many DJ booths have little space for a laptop, aside from the obvious and already-mentioned portability considerations), metal case (helps with heat dissipation, among other things), non-glossy screen (some bar/club lighting makes a glossy screen very annoying to use), and the inherent greater strength against torsional flexing that you get in a smaller case.

    I could probably live without the optical drive…especially considering that it’s a very expensive part to repair or replace, compared to the cost of a normal-size DVD mechanism and a Firewire case.

    The only feature addition I’d want (aside from an updated processor and the faster speed) is the lighted keyboard…that’s the one thing that annoys me about the 12-inch Powerbook compared to its larger siblings. Nice to have for dark environments (like many DJ booths).

    MarkSF had this to say on Jan 01, 2007 Posts: 14
  • Great comments everyone.

    MarkSF, as a DJ are there any special requirements you have for audio-in or audio-out?

    BadBeaver, what is the advantage of HDMI over the output ports that Apple has now on the Macbooks?

    Hadley Stern had this to say on Jan 01, 2007 Posts: 114
  • Hadley, at least for Apple the advantage of HDMI is obvious. That’s what the iTV is going to have when it finally gets released sometime in 2007. I don’t think it’s that bold a prediction that a lot of Apple kit is going to get updated and will ship with HDMI…

    Alasdair Allan had this to say on Jan 01, 2007 Posts: 5
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