One possible future for the PowerBook line

by Fraser Speirs

Everyone's tossing around their own wish-lists for the future of Apple's iBook and PowerBook lines in the Intel era. Here's my take on the matter - it's slightly different from most. Almost all the speculation and fantasising that I have read assumes that Apple will keep the product matrix as it is, but simply introduce new models in the same slots.

I'd like to argue that there's a case for three distinct lines of laptops. Here's my thinking:


The iBook has always been a great budget laptop and it should remain so. It's rugged enough for school kids and cheap enough that almost everyone I know who is non-technical but wants to get into computers feels able to afford and approach one. I say Apple should keep the iBook line as the clearly-demarcated low-end portable. Of course it should be a competitive product, but keeping a low entry-level is, in my opinion, a good thing.

PowerBook Nano and PowerBook Ultra

The PowerBook has an incredible pedigree in the mobile space, and Apple should continue to capitalise on this. It seems to me that high-end laptop use is beginning to bifurcate. On one hand, you have the true Road Warrior - the person who is more familiar with the interior of a Boeing 737 than that of their own car, who is frequently staying in hotels, hopping on and off wi-fi, always hunting for a power socket in an airport concourse. In my current job, I am that kind of person.

On the other hand, there's the people who want a laptop that's almost equivalent to a desktop machine, except that you can fold it up and put it in a backpack. People who are editing video on the go in Final Cut, managing a photoshoot in Aperture or capturing audio with Logic.

On no authority or evidence other than my own experience, I speculate that the former group might well be willing to trade off speed and certain other features against things like longer battery life, lighter weight and greater connectivity. On this basis, I suggest that it might be time to split the PowerBook line into two subtypes to address these two user communities.

PowerBook Nano

The PowerBook Nano is my name for the Road Warrior's PowerBook, the spiritual successor to today's 12" model. Going directly against the Sony Vaio TX line, the PowerBook Nano would be available with specifications like the following:

  • Choice of 11" or 13" widescreen displays
  • 80Gb and 120Gb hard drive options
  • A build-to-order option of having two batteries instead of an internal optical drive (which could then be added as an optional peripheral extra)
  • Really, really, really good wi-fi reception
  • A graphics card that is at least capable of supporting Aperture
  • An Apple-designed port replicator solution
  • A built-in iSight camera would also be one less thing to pack (or forget to pack)
  • Exotic weight-saving materials

Given the target market, I would be prepared to sacrifice some or all of the following to save space and/or weight:

  • S-Video port
  • Firewire 400 port (although I'd still like a FW800 port for backups)
  • DVI port (replacing it with VGA)

I'd also toy with the idea of an optional but built-in 3G wireless modem, but it's possibly a bit early for that.

PowerBook Ultra

The PowerBook Ultra subtype would be the power-hungry Pro App user's dreamland. Here, we're looking at features like:

  • 15" and 17" displays. A 19" would be the ultimate laptop porn, but is it even feasible? Remember that we were all shocked at the 17" PowerBook when it came out - it seems routine now.
  • Highly capable graphics cards with dual-link DVI support
  • Fast hard drives
  • A built-in multi-format media card reader for photographers
  • All the optical drive options (possibly even Blu-Ray?)
  • All the video output options that a pro video editor could want

Personally, I'll be first in line for a PowerBook Nano if such a product ever materialises. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Craving for a new PowerBook? Would you like that in Small or Large?


2006-01-06 09:30:55
Apple OQO
Apple should make a device similar to the OQO ( and call it the powerbook nano.
2006-01-06 10:01:19
Apple OQO
I'd love Apple to do something like that, but I just can't live with stylus-only input. A device with a slide-out thumb-board like the HTC Wizard ( would be great though.
2006-01-06 10:38:17
Apple OQO
The OQO does have a slide out keyboard. I don't like using the stylus either.
2006-01-06 11:03:04
20" PowerBook
I carry around a 17" PowerBook now and it really isn't that big and all the hype about it being to big is silly.

I'd totally go for a 20" PowerBook if it existed.

2006-01-06 11:27:05
20" PowerBook
Yeah, although I described myself as a road warrior, my current laptop is a 17" PowerBook. It's more the weight than the size for me.
2006-01-06 11:34:57
I would hope the Nano like its iPod name-sake would be solid-state.

I guess RAM is still a little to expensive but having the OS boot & run from (say) a 10Gb RAM disk would save power, heat, space and add speed. Maybe add a removable 'data / application' drive bay for a optional variety of hard-drive sizes / spare batteries (eg you could have two batteries if you ran a minimal system completely from RAM - maybe use your iPod for data).

That'd be funky.

2006-01-06 16:25:06
Apple OQO
An affordable OQO-like device running OS X could be quite tempting. Or at least provocatively interesting in light of OQO being co-founded by former Apple employees.
2006-01-06 23:13:11
iBook Nano and Powerbook SuperUltra
Adding two more may be overkill, but they're both things I'd add.

The iBook Nano would be cose to those Sony Mini-Notebooks that are just above PDA's but below the needs of a real laptop. AS such, it'd have no optical drive, a really small screen(This thing's mainly for typing notes, not for full desktop publishing), and a slimmer, checkbook-like design that's perfect for the person who's on the go and doesn't need alot.

The PowerBook SuperUltra would be the first Powerbook since the G3 line to be fully upgradeable, and I'd design it towards those going beyond video/photography/music, throwing a larger screen (23 inches may be unrealistic to you, but not to me), the fastest processor you can get, dual battery bays built-in, and the ability to swap out videocards, ala the AlienWare notebook PCs. Yes, like the iBook Nanno, It'd have a limited market, but It'd be a true desktop replacement machine with a longer lifespan than the Powerbook Ultras you listed.

2006-01-08 07:38:05
Apple OQO
Yeah but it needs better then 3 hours of battery life! This is a bit too portable. It's basically a PDA sized PC running a full blown WinXP and Office 2003.

An Apple 11" to 13" wide screen laptop would be ideal. Needs a full keyboard. Not gonna type source code using a thumb keyboard... Not gonna write lengthy notes, articles, blog entries, etc. either!

2006-01-10 01:48:53
iBook Nano and Powerbook SuperUltra
Well, I hate to buck the trend but given Apple's fractional segment of the computing hardware market already I think splitting the Powerbook line would be a waste of time & effort. Practically by definition, anything that could be considered a "powerbook nano" would not be a Powerbook at all. Powerbooks are the "high end, have all the options, as good as a desktop that folds up" models. The "road warrior" version would be the iBook anyway, making something like a Powerbook Nano concept redundant.

I thinik what we're really seeing is a lingering, though admitedly small, desire for an Apple hand-held device, like an up to date Newton. I wouldn't confuse that, however, with any real market for a "PowerBook Nano". At this stage I don't think Apple could successfully try to re-tackle the handheld market. A logical first step would be simple data entry on the iPod.

2006-01-10 04:15:11
Smaller but not bigger
I don't see a need for anything bigger than the 17". That's big enough for pretty much anyone. Make it faster, better battery life, etc. instead, which the switch to Intel should accomplish.

On the other end of pro-notebooks I think something really small and light would do well, and perhaps in a tablet formfactor. I'd love to have something like the 12" (with Intel components), higher resolution screen, tablet formfactor, with optical drive externally perhaps in a dockingstation. There are some really nice PC notebooks that I'm looking at with envy as much as I love Macs.

About the iBooks I would make just one of them. 13.3" ws sounds cool. Stick with the durability-angle and lower the price. Make it something that, like the mini, can lure people to Mac and get them hooked.