Why Didn’t They Call It the MacBook ?

As replacements for Apple’s iBook line of consumer notebooks, the just announced and released MacBooks look like they’ll do nicely. They update yet another spot on Apple’s product matrix to Intel-based technology, and they’re quite attractive, to boot. That’s true especially in the super-sexy black model, which has a seductively evil look to it — more K.A.R.R. than K.I.T.T., if you know what I mean.

Like a lot of people, though, I’m disappointed that Apple has effectively mothballed the idea that their professional notebooks ought to ship in a compact form factor too, as there’s nothing in the current product line that inherits the niche filled by the now obsolete 12-inch PowerBook.

Most Popular or Most Seen

Which is odd to me. Though I was probably predisposed to noticing them over the other PowerBook sizes, it always seemed to me that the 12-inch size — one of which I own — was the most popular of them all. Or, at least, among my friends and colleagues, it was that size that seemed to be the most prevalent. Perhaps it was their generally more portable form factor that accounted for that impression; while more 15-inch and the 17-inch models might have remained anchored to desks because of their greater weight, the 12-inch models were free to gallivant around town, making innumerable appearances in coffee shops, outdoor plazas and conferences.

Right: Back in black. The sexy, new, black model MacBook sitting on the hood of a car like some kind of cheap strumpet.

Losing the easiest to carry professional portable that Apple ever made is a shame, but what’s even sadder is that, finally, after like a decade of sitting around with my fingers crossed, I’m giving up hope that Apple will ever ship a true sub-notebook. The 12-inch PowerBook was certainly compact, but it wasn’t ever particularly lightweight, and over the years, Apple’s laptops in general haven’t gotten any slimmer.

Sony Style

What I’ve been pining for is something like my old Sony PCG-SR7K VAIO: a truly small notebook that weighs in at no more than two or three pounds. Of course, I’d want it sturdier than the VAIOs, which were notoriously fragile, because I’m sure to get about ten times more usage out of a super-lightweight portable than I would from my PowerBook. And I’d be willing to trade in any number of other conveniences, too: take out the optical drive, fix the hard drive, limit the RAM slots, shrink the pixels on the screen, whatever it takes.

What I want is ‘Don’t think twice portability,’ a concept that Apple seems to have more or less abandoned. With a notebook like my VAIO, I’d carry it around as a matter of habit, without even a second thought, because its weight was so light as to be almost inconsequential. With my PowerBook, I really do have to evaluate the situation, ask myself if it’s truly necessary for me to bring it along, estimate how long I’ll need to lug it with me. That’s not what I want out of computing at all, and I don’t think it’s what Apple wants, either — wouldn’t they rather give me every reason to keep it with me wherever I go? If nothing else, it will increase the chances that I’ll break it, giving me an excuse to go running with my credit card for a brand new model every eighteen months or so. That’s called a win/win.



  1. There’s obviously a reason for the disappearence of the 12″ laptop: Something Is Coming. Even if it’s six months away, the various patents that have been pointed out around the place recently clearly point to some kind of super-portable unit being developed. Maybe it’s a phone, maybe it’s a tablet, maybe it’s something entirely new and awesome. But that little hole in the product line won’t remain empty forever. Surely.

  2. Could someone please explain to me what the appeal of the black one is? I think the white is soooo much sexier! I’ve felt that way about the iPods all along, and I totally think that about the MacBooks, too. Don’t get me wrong — I value a little negritude in just about anything. But the white ones just look better!

    Nice machines, they are, but gimme the white one.

  3. I sure hope something is coming. I do enjoy the 12″ form factor, and I’ve owned the 15 and the 17 powerbooks. All those patents, all the talk, all the rumors. The ‘dont think twice’ portability of something like a vaio would be fantastic. Then again, I had a newton and there were still times I’d chose to leave it in the car or at home. Still, the lighter and smaller the laptop gets, the more it sticks with me.

  4. I can understand the feelings behind wanting a black one. It looks very badass. I would definitely take a white one but I always felt that it was too glossy for me (which is the whole screen issue, but people go both ways so who knows?).

    I know what you mean about the 12″, though. It’s my first Mac and what I’m typing on now. Besides all that “aw that’s such a cute computer” remarks I got from the ladies, it was much easier to carry around and just pull out to get things done. The MacBook is a little too big in comparison.

    If Something Is Coming, I hope it’s a super subcompact notebook. MacBook mini anybody?

  5. Jeff, I’m with you too. I can’t get behind the black ones. Maybe it’s because Apple has brain washed me into having everything match.

    Regardless, the new MacBooks are sweet. I stopped by the Apple store this evening and was very impressed. For all the talk about the shiny screens it didn’t bother me and the brightness is awesome. They didn’t have anything side by side, but they looked similar in brightness level of the iMacs. They looked much brighter then the MacBook Pros too.

  6. I picked a white one up for my girlfriend on my way home from work on Tuesday. It’s a great little machine for the price and more than capable of handling her internet and word-processing needs.

    I’m typing this on my four year old 15″ titanium with more than a little bit of computer envy as I’m looking at her brand new machine on the floor.

    My only complaint about the Macbook is the keyboard. It looks cheap and after testing it in Word at the Apple store it feels fine, but there’s just something cruddy about the way it integrates into the rest of the machine. It could also have been backlit. I like this glossy screen; looks briliant…

  7. I’m typing this on a 18-month old 12″ G4 PowerBook and I have to commiserate with Khoi about there being no replacement as yet. I owned a larger, 14″ ThinkPad before my Mac and there was no question in my mind that the 12″ form-factor is the way to portable laptop nirvana. I didn’t even seriously consider the larger PB options (partly because they cost more too).

    As well as being small, relatively lightweight and portable, I think the 12″ PB just *looks* a lot nicer than its 15″ and 17″ brethren. I like the way the keyboad goes all the way out to the edge of the base and how the speakers are cleverly hidden at the back so the sound reflects of the open display.

    I’d also love to see a ultra-lightweight laptop from Apple. I reckon they’d do well to sell it as part of some deal with an iMac or mini so that real road-warriors can have a grunt machine at home and a companion for the road.

  8. Poking about the internets clearly shows a sizeable cadre of us — all of the current 12″ PB users, basically — that are highly pissed about the apparent loss of their small bite of Apple’s pie. Unsurprisingly, like most Apple loyalists, we are rabidly devoted to our Apples, and for every one of us that bought the 12″, It’s the Portability, Stupid!!!!, certainly NOT the vast screen real estate.

    The more time that passes, and the more *other* products they introduce, the more left out we feel — Kicked to the iDoor.

    If indeed “Something Is Coming,” from strictly a business standpoint they had better give us 12ers at least some tiny morsel of hope. After all, it IS easy to argue that we’re Steve’s most active, mobile, and visible ambassadors, dominating every coffeehouse outside of Redmond. So, O Holy Steve, just a little info leak about a new ultraportable, that’s all I ask. Even a tacky Origami-like Mystery Website, whatever.

    Otherwise, they’ll be inciting the entire 12er posse to start considering how best we might achieve OSX on a VAIO.

    And while I’m kevetching, I KNOW someone in Cupertino MUST read the many Mac forums, so WHY in the compugods’ names wouldn’t they backlight ALL their keyboards from now to eternity? (Here I sit at 3AM, once again sleepless and having to use my damn Itty Bitty Book Light to light my fingers’ way,)

    Oh! And WHO told them to “fix” the current PB keyboards anyway?!? Did any of you tell them they needed redesigning? I know it wasn’t me. I absolutely adore this keyboard. I know they want to push the image envelope at all times, but this keyboard is already perfect! It is simply the finest notebook keyboard that god ever made. My fingers fly over it so fast, sometimes my brain can’t even keep up.

    PLEASE, O Holy Steve, Hear Our Humble Prayers! Do not leave us, your most active, mobile, and VISIBLE customers out in the cold!!

  9. Mark, I also own that 18-month old 12″ PowerBook and it is indeed portable laptop nirvana. It’s not a pain to carry around, the keyboard is comfortable, the screen is matte, and it looks damn good in aluminum. While the MacBook has some great new additions, the only thing I’d truly need is its screen resolution.

    As for Sony, they have some great ideas for laptops. The Sony VAIO X505 without a CD drive is pretty nice. It’s very lightweight and basic. The only thing missing would be a brilliant design.

  10. First off, I don’t understand why everyone’s upset. The MacBook is a reasonable replacement for the PowerBook 12″. In comparision to my 12-inch powerbook, the macbook is a vast upgrade in CPU and also offers more disk space, more maximum memory, faster networking, more pixels of screen real estate, built in iSight, etc.

    The single area of contention would be the video card. The onboard intel card certainly doesn’t perform as well as the dedicated cards of the past. I would argue that this seriously only affects gamers and high end OpenGL apps. (I happen to be a developer of the latter.) In fact, the intel graphics card probably extends battery life by a bit.

    I upgraded to a macbook pro shortly after they were released. We needed a machine to support Intel binaries of our product. Its a really nice machine, but I’ve been tempted to trade it to another developer to get myself a MacBook non-Pro as a more fitting replacement for my 12″ powerbook. I consider the MacBook an excellent upgrade for the 12″ PB and feel it makes much more sense in a continuous product offering instead of the silly professional/consumer division that Apple has clung to for so long.

    As far as the Next Big Thing…. Consider what happens when laptops replace hard drives with flash memory. We are rapidly approaching the point where you could put tens of gigs of flash memory in a laptop and have enough storage space for a modern OS. At that point, I think we’ll see some very interesting machines. I don’t know if they’ll be tablet format or more traditional laptop format (heck, why not both?), but suddenly portables will be lighter with longer battery life.

  11. The Vaio T series is the replacement for the SR, and an improvement, imho. And I can’t say I’ve had trouble with them, myself and wife have been through 2 SR’s, each still running after 4 years.

  12. I agree with Jays post. These new 13 inch MacBooks have, save for the videocard, the same powerfull guts as the 15 inch. For considerably less money. In fact, they are so close (again, minus some fancy dual layer dvd burner or something) that I tend to think if there were 12 inch Pro model, Apple would have a hard time justifying any kind of significant price jump. And then we’d be on them about that.

  13. I’m going to weigh in on the “black is the new black” issue. Black is utilitarian, stealthy, sexy. It shows no dirt (white iBooks and white Apple keyboards look pretty icky after a while) and hides some sins.

    I like the choice.

    In some way, it’s similar to those who prefer their photos on white or on black — which do you feel makes the photo/screen pop more?

    I hated it when cellphones, audio electronics, etc started going to silver. UGLY. Cheap looking. Silver really shows off the plastic look.

    White looks pretty good but white is harder to pull off — Apple does it very well and kudos to them for that. In some other hands, it starts to look tacky and too toy-like.

    Anyways — who cares? You have a choice.

  14. The black model is truly tight. Personally, I’d like to see 128MB vram on the 13″. My 12″ has 32, and my 17″ is sporting 256, which is quite nice. If there was an update to the vram, I’d go ahead and cop that black model fo sho.

  15. Totally agree. I had to trudge around with a 12 inch iBook for two years before I finally had a “pro” Apple that came in that size. Now it looks like I’m going to have to regress to the consumer model again if I want to upgrade my 12 inch PB beauty. Not sure if I’m ready to do that, especially given that at least from the photos, I don’t find the new black-and-whites nearly as sexy as the silvers.

    I’m also with you on the subnotebook thing. Bring back the DuoDock please. Get rid of this CD/DVD drive that I’ve used probably 10 times in two years and shave off an extra centimeter from the thickness.

  16. I’d also love a sub-notebook and I’m a little more optimistic than you, Khoi. From what I hear, all of the MacBooks run pretty hot and I’m guessing the MacBook Regulars took longer because of their smaller size.

    I’m hoping that after the Apple engineering team spends a little more time with the Intel chips we’ll see a screen of 12″ or smaller.

  17. I guess my beef with black probably has to do with the fact that every PC is black these days. The BlacBook looks like a generic PC to me, whereas the white helps the Mac stand out as unique in a sea of bland PCs.

    And it’s not just PCs — almost all electronics are black. I don’t have an inherent problem with the color, I just think it’s the obvious, boring choice. White, on the other hand, is still quite unique and unusual for PCs, and electronics in general.

  18. I don’t find the new black-and-whites nearly as sexy as the silvers.

    You won’t if you’re just looking at photos. You have to see the black on in person to want it. It’s a tactile thing.

  19. As the proud owner of a 2nd-gen 12″ Powerbook (1 Ghz), there are a couple of things keeping me from thinking the new Macbook is the greatest thing on earth: it’s not aluminum (I kinda like my stuff to match); it’s a glossy screen (I prefer the matte version); it has integrated graphics (I just plain don’t like that); there’s no 7200 RPM bto HDD option (that’s a lot of abbreviations, but you know what I mean).

    In short, it’s not a pro-level machine. It’s close, but it’s so obviously not. I would easily pay another $300-$500 for a similar form factor but with specs closer to the MBP. Hopefully there’s one coming, someday.

  20. The 12″ G4 Powerbook is my favorite laptop ever – I already plan on keeping it running as long as humanly possible (and humanely possible), even if Apple releases a Macbook Pro equivilent. I’d be more likely to buy a small-form-factor MBP (12″) if it was even smaller, by doing away with the internal optical drive, or some other heresy of that nature.

  21. Early 2003 Rev.A 867MHz 12″ PowerBook G4 user here, on the machine itself as ever…

    I agree with Jay about flash being the future. I got my 12″ PowerBook way back when iBooks were still G3’s so there was really no choice for what was indeed my very first Mac. It’s been a real trooper for years and I’ve no intentions of abandoning this machine until something much smaller and lighter comes out which enables me to do the wordprocessing and general web stuff I need out in daylight for days at a time.

    Meanwhile, I have a compact flash to IDE adapter and when 16GB cards come out, I’m grabbing one and making this a fast and silent little computer. Perhaps for its 4th birtday if Samsung and co. pull their finger out and get these big flash cards coming!

    The MacBook does appeal to me. But for my laptop I want ultra-light and portable. Unless of course this one dies, not that I want that to happen!

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