However, it’s worth noting that I bought the media reader to allow me to leave behind my 12-in. PowerBook G4. It may be the smallest laptop offering in the Apple lineup, but it’s still more hassle than it’s worth for a short holiday abroad. Which led me to think: what I really want is a sub-notebook. A truly lightweight, compact portable — less than 3 pounds and three-quarters of an inch thick — that’s rugged enough that I can throw into my backpack without worrying.
Below: child’s play. The seven-year old eMate 300 offers a glimpse at a form-factor that still makes sense today.
This has been a hole in the Apple lineup for years, and I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it to ever become a reality. Today’s Apple is focused on digital media products, and servicing every nook and cranny of the laptop market hardly seems of interest to Steve Jobs. There are Windows laptops that purport to fit this description, I know. But not only am I unwilling to switch operating systems, I also don’t really believe any of them will last longer than eighteen months.
Remembrances of Sub-Notebooks Past
What I actually want is a modern-day version of the eMate 300, that well-regarded but ultimately unsuccessful Newton OS portable that the old Apple released in the mid-nineties. Made of thick, kid-friendly plastic, it was rugged as heck, which made it ideal for younger kids. Despite having that target market, a friend of mine owned one and used it every day for work, mostly as a kind of super word processor, and it performed admirably.
I’ve often daydreamed about getting a device like that, adding some email and Web surfing features and a hard drive to it, and then toting it with me literally everywhere (something I can’t do with my current PowerBook). I suppose that, from a manufacturing perspective, adding those features to a device like the eMate is exactly the same as engineering a full-fledged laptop, only with greater size restrictions and more urgent durability issues.
If anything, what I have in mind would likely cost twice as much as my PowerBook, where the eMate cost less than a thousand dollars in its day. Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it — it’s obvious that Apple has done a lot of innovation since it shut the door on the Newton and the eMate, but in many respects, the company has pretty much been resigned to standing still when it comes to mobile computing.