Now give us something insanely great!

by Jochen Wolters

As part of Apple's well-executed transition from PowerPC to Intel CPUs, the new MacBooks follow the same pattern as the previously released MacIntels: just like the Intel-based Mac mini, iMac, and MacBook Pro product lines, the MacBooks sport a completely revised motherboard and a few welcome new features — e.g., the built-in iSight camera — in an almost unchanged outer shell. It would not surprise me if the PowerMac G5, the last product line yet to be moved over to Intel chips, would also feature new innards in an only mildly modified case.

So, while Apple's current model line-up features state-of-the-art machines that combine elegant looks with rock-solid performance, there's been a distinct lack in the "insanely great" department lately. Let me point out two of my dream Apple products that I would consider worthy of the "insanely great" label.

Dream Apple product #1 - Ultra-Portable Mac-cum-iPhone

Assuming that the new MacBook also serves as a replacement for the 12" PowerBook, there is room for a smaller-sized portable computer in Apple's line-up. Although it is anything but a new idea, I would like to see a MacTablet machine. A good friend of mine has been using a Windows-based tablet PC for a long time now, and he's really impressed with it. Except for using a stylus to get data into the machine, however, it behaves exactly like any other Windows PC. Which made me wonder what Apple could come up with if they used the same approach as they did with the iPod and "just" re-thought the whole tablet PC category: Take the best ideas from the Newton, the Palm, the PocketPC (if there are any "best ideas" in that platform...), the Ultra-Mobile PC, and better smart-phones like the Sony P-9xx line, and see what this "MacFilofax" could look like...

Somewhat bigger in size than current PocketPCs, with a UI featuring OS X's Aqua look-and-feel and the ease-of-use of iTunes/iPod, optional phone support, and a scroll of electronic paper that you can unroll from the side of the machine to extend the screen, Apple could go wild with ideas on this one, and I'd say they should.

Dream Apple product #2 - Maxi power in a mini box

Even if you use your Mac for processor-intensive tasks like video or audio editing, and you want all the processing power you can get, you may not necessarily require the expandability of a PowerMac-level machine. For example, if you're into digital audio, there are now numerous I/O solutions based on external devices hooked up to the computer via Firewire, so you don't have to rely on the classical PCI-card approach anymore. Wouldn't it be cool, then, if you could have the power of the next-generation Intel-based PowerMacs inside a small box just slightly bigger than a Mac mini?

So, here's my dream workhorse Macintosh: a quad-core processor; support for at least 8G of RAM; a SuperDrive and room for two hard drives; three Firewire 800 ports, optical audio I/O, and state-of-the-art driver support for mLAN. And all of this packaged in a slim, shiny case, which takes some design cues from the current PowerMacs and has the exact same footprint as the MacBook. Take it with you on the road, place your MacBook on top of it, hook both machines up with a LAN patch cable, and run your creative software of choice in distributed mode — a truly portable solution with the processing power of a high-end workstation. Insanely great indeed!

What would your personal insanely great ├╝ber-Mac dream machine look like?


James Kielland
2006-05-22 09:12:58
I really like the idea of Dream #2. The idea of a unit one could throw in some luggage that would serve to boost the capabilities of a laptop sounds terrific. Particularly if you could link several together.

My dream would be a 25" iMac with room for two 500 gig harddrives, and cable TV in, and iPod Hifi quality audio out.

Lastly, the one thing computing really needs is GOGGLES. higher than 1680x1050 resolution, stereo, and something that doesn't look too geeky, please. A tall order, perhaps. But it would greatly enhance a video iPod and make it possible to enjoy a high resolution laptop w/o the size and weight of a large screen.

GC Fiedler
2006-05-22 09:19:36
Though I welcome a MacPDA - I could care less about an iPhone. What we really need is a true portable.

I feel strongly that Apple's small Intel laptops are unimpressive. Geez, you'd think they'd release a model comparable to the 12" G4 PB at least in its weight class. 13" at 5.2 lbs? This is a brick.

I don't the MB 13" and the MBP 15" are state of the art compared to Windoze laptops running the same chips. These MacBricks are overweight.

2006-05-22 09:26:28
I would just be happy with a power mac / Intel Mac that can fit in a standard 19" rack. Having to mount the G5 upright takes up 12U and good luck mounting it horizontal because the "handles" on the G5 get in the way. For professional Audio needs, (I have a number of Pro Tools HD7 / HD 3 rigs), it would be great to have a machine that could fit more than 3 pci cards, mount in a 19" rack have a builtin SATA RAID controller and room for 4 drives... If you can get this all in a box that takes up about 4 U (like the G4's could when they were in the Marathon Chassis), I would be very happy...

I think that Apple needs a "Creatives" product line. Machines and hardware geared towards the creative professional market. Having specs that cater to the Video/Audio/Photo needs of the world will continue to help Apple keep a strong hold in these markets while making the men and woman that use this equipment daily, happy : ) --

Dan Warner
2006-05-22 09:49:06
Tablet PC's are making enormous inroads into the higher ed market. Why? Because they're almost as good as blackboards and pencils and paper. At this point they're still limited to the early adopters, but those are the same people that got omputers into the classrooms in the first place. Was Apple so stung by the failure of the Newton that they simply won't touch this market with a 10 foot pole. I hope not, because tablet PC's really do have insanely great pedagogical advantages.
2006-05-22 10:44:32
Give a MBP 12inch that doesnt get hot, paint it black and im fine. Or better transparent... and of course, kill the isight for god sake!!!

Pd: You are talking about making a newton and a new mac cube... 2 failures... ;-) i dont think they are going to try that again.

2006-05-22 10:56:18

Could you please elaborate on your views of the Tablet concept?

I was initially impressed by the cool factor of the tablet. But in observing them (and PDAs) in actual use, I've generally been underwhelmed. I generally find pen and paper to be slow, find that I can type much faster than I could ever write, and that I can type for longer periods of time and greater volume before experiencing any wrist fatigue.

When exchanging contact information, I generally dread when someone whips out a PDA with stylus. "Okay, hold on just a second.. No, don't just give me your card... okay,.. ummm.... what's your name again? okay, just a second.. wait.. J _ A _ M _ oh, geez, I hate when I try to get it to do E's.. Do you have one of these? Oh, you should get one! They really save a LOT of time! uhh.. K E I L.. oh whoops.. K I E ? just a second.. no, no.. don't just give me your card... hold on.. I've just about got it..." Granted, occassionally one can run into skilled operators and it isn't always THAT bad.

But in *general*, at least in my experience, keyboards work as better input devices for computers and pens work better on paper. So, I'm genuinely curious as to where precisely you see the benefit of such devices.

Oliver Breidenbach
2006-05-22 11:10:23
Re: Tablet PCs

Although Microsoft seems to think it is a cool concept, I haven't found a Tablet PC from a major (even any) vendor with up to date hardware. All models I could find seem to be based on older technology. Does that tell us something about the market for Tablet PCs?



David Battino
2006-05-22 11:43:00
Another approach to #2 would be a dedicated DSP peripheral like TC Electronic’s PowerCore or the Muse Research Receptor. Access, Lexicon, Novation, Roland, and Yamaha (just off the top of my head) make standalone audio gear that integrates with computers, showing up as hardware VST plug-ins, for example. I suspect a quad-core laptop would be too expensive, hot, and heavy to sell well.
2006-05-22 11:44:31
#2 sounds an awful lot like the G4 Cube . . . and we all know how that turned out.
2006-05-22 14:15:38
Something like idea 2 combined with those stackable HD; let me build a 16 core machine by stacking up 8 minis and connecting them via Gigabit ethernet, or maybe something faster.

Of course, I'd need never buy a 'more powerful' machine again if I can just add CPU as I need it. . .

Kendall Helmstetter Gelner
2006-05-22 16:51:57
I personally like the idea of an iPhone because I feel that Apple could actually build a device that properly synced with a computer. Too many phones nowadaays offer poor synching options and usability, in part because carriers want you to buy wallpaper and ringtones and send email through them. I'd be happier with a device that could help provide connectivity to my laptop and really act as an extension of my laptop rather than just a phone with bad UI.
2006-05-22 17:53:54
The supermini: The size of a shoe box or a little larger. Build-to-order as you like. Single, Dual, or Quad core. Good, better, best video card. Room for 2 drives. Gigabit ethernet and FW800.
2006-05-23 01:52:49
All I can say is that it would look NOTHING like #2. If I want a high-end machine, I'll buy one. Making it small just makes it more expensive and less feature rich. I'd never drop that much money on processing power like that, knowing that it was going to be obsolete prematurely due to the form factor.
Jochen Wolters
2006-05-23 06:00:00

Those goggles are a great idea. I just wonder how much power they require: if the iPod-plus-goggles set-up would run out of juice in less time than it takes to watch a movie, they wouldn't "probably" sell too well. Although I'd love to have a pair! ;)

Jochen Wolters
2006-05-23 06:00:47

I agree that an "Ultra-Portable Mac" should be a Mac first of all, and phone funcationality an optional add-on; and definitely not the other way round.

Jochen Wolters
2006-05-23 06:25:55
Thanks for all your comments about the Newton and the Cube.

With regards to my mentioning the Newton, I still think it had some features that are just plain cool even by today's standard. E.g., if you'd write "fax to jim" on your tablet machine, it should not only present a fax form, but also display all people named Jim inside your address book so you can easily pick the recipient. It's about finding and re-using these kinds of features, even if the original product was a failure overall.

As for the Cube: well, if you choose the right features, put it in a well-designed package, and price it right, you can also turn such a concept into a huge sucess. See Mac mini for details. ;)

Jochen Wolters
2006-05-23 06:35:44

Devices like the PowerCore are great for adding some extra oomph to your setup, but as you point out yourself, they're dedicated to certain tasks.

My wish for that small high-end Mac is more in line with what JulesLt and zato write: make this a highly configurable machine, yet put it inside a small(er) enclosure than the G5 package. Maybe it would already suffice to offer the upcoming PowerMac-successor in two different casings: one designed with ultimate expandability in mind, the other offering a minimized form factor.

2006-05-23 07:56:18
Give me the Mac Mini Pro. 1 2.0GB Dual core proc. Same graphics chipset that's in the MacBook Pro. 256MB video ram. 4GB ram limit, comes with 512. 7200 drive, 2xlayer DVD burner. FW/400/800 ports. Bluetooth included. Wireless optional. Case a little bigger then stock mini, if needed. Should be priced at or slightly under $1000.00US.

Create a slick enclosure, w/ backplane and air routes/fans, that I can rackmount and stuff full of Mini Pro's and let me manage them from my XServe. If I can attach the mini pro's to the SAN, applelove++.

2006-05-23 09:26:34
How can Tablet PCs be making enormous inroads into higher ed, if they're still limited to early adopters?

Figure out a way to put a half-decent keyboard onto one, then we'll talk. Writing will never be as efficient as keyboarding for entering text.

Julian Skidmore
2006-05-23 10:26:24
Well, as the link points out, I always dream of an ultra-budget iMac type device, which I call: iBase.

iBase is tablet-esque, and contains an LCD but achieves it's low price point by cutting out as much as possible before it's useless. So it only has minimal USB, 1xFW400, no Ethernet just Airport, no CD/DVD.

The point of it is that you'd buy a number of them to install in various locations because they'd be cheap. The linked version was written back in the end of the G3 days - today I'd have a Core solo with 256Mb RAM and maybe 1000x600 display.

But the rest would be the same.
2006-05-23 15:34:39
I'd love to see a mac subnotebook (SubMacBook? MacBookMini?), something around the size of fujitsu lifebook P series. ~10" screen and slightly reduced keyboard. No internal optical drive would be fine. I tote everywhere so weight, durability, and battery efficency are my top criteria. I think a transparent casing where you could see the internals would be sexy.
Egypt Urnash
2006-05-23 18:21:49
I would like an iPony.
Eric J
2006-05-30 00:24:30
MacBook Lite, baby. Drop the optical drive, Core Solo, maybe hook up with one of those newfangled solid state hard drives. The Apple equivalent of the Sony Zxxx series, done right of course.