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Rebrickulous: Cutting Through The MacBook Rumors

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Daniel Eran Dilger
After hearing about the “brick,” supposedly an Apple code-name for an unreleased something, the web has gone wild with pundits trying to attach their personal visions for the future with Apple’s capacity to deliver them. These visions make it clear why Apple does not use focus groups to create its products.
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The idea got started by 9to5mac.com posting the suggestion that the word Brick was a meaningful part of something connected to Apple’s upcoming MacBook refresh.

It followed up with a “clue” that presented a photo of a laser pointer on a sci-fi novel (sourced from a web search) with aa Apple logo superimposed over the target of the beam. What did Apple have to do with Bricks and Cryptonomicon? It seemed everyone was in a panic to find out.

OhGizmo! » Archive » OhGizmo Review: Dragon Lasers 250mW Hulk

Ginger II.

This rather thin slice of buzz, despite lacking any attribution to an authority or even an anonymous source of reliable information in the past, was subsequently attached to a series of tired old ideas that have been relentlessly flogged over the last decade in a desperate bid to lend them some fresh credibility, including:

A powerful new Mac mini, despite the fact that the mini has a very limited role in Apple’s sales or strategy. It serves as a placeholder product. The rumors that it will go away are no more or less credible than those saying it will become an important product.

Something between a mini and an Apple TV, despite the fact that the Apple TV has been described as a hobby. As with the Mac mini, the rumors oscillate between reports of fantastic new revisions and its being dumped, when in reality neither is likely.

A cheap new Mac Pro, despite the fact that, while being lusted after by Internet thinkers, a headless PC replacement with much better hardware than the mini and a dramatically lower price than the workstation class Pro would only lower Apple’s margins while having very little impact on selling more machines.

If there was any money to be made chasing Dell and HP down the profitless rabbit hole of low margin, middle of the road desktops, Apple would be pursuing it. In reality however, the desktop PC is a dying market with little potential for growth and scant possibility for differentiation or profitability. Apple sells iMacs and laptops, and builds Mac Pros so as to be taken seriously by professionals. Even the Xserve is a minor part of Apple’s business.

The Long Retail.

The reason Apple isn’t copying HP and Dell and other PC makers struggling against the tide of failure? There are two: first off, dramatic new growth in traditional desktop PC market is dead and there aren’t any signs of a potential for resurrection. It has matured, and PC makers are now scrambling to figure out how to make a cheaper, portable generation of PCs that can survive in emerging markets outside the US.

The second reason is that Apple has something the PC makers don’t have: classy boutique retail stores. Apple has no interest in competing in the commodity market for PC boxes because it has a hungry market for all the growth it can supply in its own retail stores. People don’t walk into an Apple Store looking to buy a WalMart-style PC box. They buy laptops and iMacs, almost exclusively. Mac Pros and minis account for a small portion of Apple’s retail sales.

The voracious demand for classy retail Macs is what is fueling Apple’s growth. That growth is in turn creating new retail stores, which fuel more growth. Apple has a lot of runway ahead of its current position for gaining speed in retail before it needs to lift up and aggressively target the enterprise or other future destinations.

That retail miracle has gone unmatched by PC vendors, which have no brand nor any well designed products to sell. The closest has been Sony, which hasn’t been able to get much mileage from its Style stores, in part because it is only selling lifeless commodity Windows PC. Retail is hard; just ask Microsoft or Palm, both of which threw in the towel on flashy retail stores. The success of Starbucks doesn’t mean that its easy to sell coffee.

Apple’s Retail Challenge
Apple’s Adventures in Retail

The Globalization PC Myth.

Apple’s wild success in retail means the company isn’t scrambling to find a way out to jump start the heart of the aging commodity PC before it flatlines, as everyone else in the PC business is.

Apple has the circumstances to eat into rival’s market share by replacing their commodity PCs with premium PCs called Macs. If Dell and HP could do this, they certainly would be. They can’t.

Pundits who haven’t grasped this reality are left thinking that Apple has to follow what everyone else in the PC world has to do in the PC end game, and so are suggesting something else that Apple has to laser from the Brick:

The netbook is a favorite concept among Windows Enthusiasts who are contemptuous of Apple but like to link-bait Mac readers. When has Apple ever chased after failed product categories with imitative zeal? Never mind reality; they just desperately want to position Apple as the follower.

The EeePC, OLPC, UMPC and similar products are favorites of the crowd who like to chase buzzwords, but these products are selling in extremely small quantities at razor thin profits. UMPC and OLPC devices failed to sell as many units as the Zune last year; OLPC sold less than 700,000 in 2007.

The EeePC is described as a relative success, selling 1.7 million devices in the first half of 2008, despite being a $300 to $700 product. There’s no profits to be made in selling toy laptops in that kind of quantity. In the last year, Apple sold eight million Macs, ten million iPhones, and 60 million iPods.

Apple is not going to trade any of those profitable markets away for the chance to design and market ultra-cheap toy laptops that it will then have to compete against commodity makers with in order to slice off part of their 4 million per year potential market at cutthroat margins.

Mobile EEE PC, UMPC, and Internet Tablets vs the iPhone

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us.

Despite the fact that Apple is currently working hard to take back the computer market with the Mac, defend its dominant position with the iPod, and eat its way into the huge and rapidly growing smartphone market with the iPhone, many pundits are demanding that Apple reserve significant efforts in order to dabble in failed product categories that have made no progress for years, apparently just to entertain them.

They pout in dissatisfaction after every product announcement, fretting that Apple hasn’t done enough to wow them with copycat versions of the loser dead end product visions offered up by its rivals. Where is Apple’s version of the joke called the Surface? Where is its rental music subscriptions, its DVR, its HD optical disk, its $8 billion investment in game consoles?

Scratching the Surface of Microsoft’s New Table PC
Video Game Consoles 2007: Wii, PS3 and the Death of Microsoft’s Xbox 360
Lessons from the Death of HD-DVD
CES: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Apple hasn’t created an entirely new category of devices since the Newton, which isn’t exactly regarded as a successful venture. What Apple has done is devise competitive and differentiated new form factors and feature selections for existing product categories that show real potential, such as the iPod or the light but full sized MacBook Air.

The company has intentionally avoided jumping into shallow, stagnant markets with little consumer interest, including the Tablet PC and the Media Center PC or Tivo.

When it has cautiously entered unproven new markets as it did with the Apple TV, it has done so with unique products that attempt to target a new facet that existing players haven’t tapped. Apple has little to offer in a netbook, and of course, there’s also nothing brick-like about a netbook.

How the MacBook Air stacks up against other ultra-light notebooks
Apple TV Digital Disruption at Work: iTunes Takes 91% of Video Downloads

Cutting blocks of metal with freaking lasers.

The original product linked to the magic Brick word is the MacBook. The revealed intention: rather than stamping laptop shells out of aluminum, Apple would supposedly be cutting up solid blocks of metal using lasers.

Never mind that lasers only cut through large blocks of metal in James Bond movies (manufacturers might use high pressure water jets to prototype models, but not to build mass produced laptop shells by the millions); the rumors have now jumped from ‘pin your code-word on my existing idea’ into the realm of ‘1960s fantasy novels as business models.’

Continuing on that same Jeopardy category is the idea that Apple would invest in manufacturing facilities in the US. The idea of building large scale domestic manufacturing in the US was too late even back in the late 80s when Steve Jobs envisioned a high tech, automated factory for assembling NeXT computers. Two years after building the 40,000 sq ft Fremont factory with over 100 precision assembly robots, the plant was only pushing out 60 machines a day.

The benefits of building an automated assembly plant in the US related to higher quality logic board fabrication than was available overseas and rapid, customizable, ‘just in time’ construction to minimize inventory problems. NeXT wasn’t building mass production consumer gear.

However, these motivations all related to the pioneering NeXT Computers in late 80s in a world before commodity PCs could even work a mouse, before the modern world of mass assembly, and when NeXT’s workstations were selling for nearly $10,000 each.

THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER FACTORY
AUCTION IS PLANNED FOR NEXT COMPUTER’S FACTORY – New York Times

More Problems than Solutions.

None of those same motivating factors are relevant today. NeXT’s factory was expected to eventually reach a capacity of 600 machines a day, but even that would only be able produce a quarter million units in a year of non-stop production. Apple now sells two to three million Macs per quarter.

Building, staffing, and running acres of factories in the US is no longer an economic reality. The US is no longer an industrial economy, which is why we are bailing tens of billions of dollars upon the auto industry. It makes no sense to build computers in the US. Jobs was the last person to try. Apple knows what is possible, and manufacturing in the US is unquestionably not feasible now, twenty years after the failure of the high tech NeXT factory.

It is particularly ‘not possible’ to manufacture computers by carving blocks of metal with lasers in the US. The future of new MacBooks is not carved blocks of metal, but rather precision stamped metal. That is demonstrated pretty clearly in the design of the MacBook Air.

Cited as the rationale behind laser cutting blocks of metal: no weak spots from bends! Laptop shells don’t have weak spots. Where are these weak spots in the bent metal on the Air? People aren’t using laptops as load bearing walls or as personal aircraft.

Another: no seams. Does the Air has obvious seams that offend in some way? Another: a more creative design if you don’t have to machine it. The Air is creative; a laser cut block would have a lot more design constraints than a curvaceous stamped metal shell as well as higher costs and greater waste.

Seriously?

BusinessWeek maintained a straight face in examining the Brick rumor seriously, quoting Kevin Keller from iSuppli as saying, “If you’re working with one single unit of metal, you’re reducing a lot of the materials costs and also a lot of labor time on assembly.”

Does that mean laptop shells laser cut from a “brick” of metal would somehow already have the logic board inside it? Would the savings in material be related to the portion of the block incinerated by the laser? It’s almost like reading an iSuppli take apart estimate of a device they haven’t actually taken apart.

This is all so breathtakingly stupid that bears some resemblance to the election. Why is the tech media so ready to sell its credibility and chat up an absurd honking nose as if it were a serious subject deserving attention? And why is it ignoring the more interesting actual story?

Apple’s Brick: A Radical New Laptop? – BusinessWeek

New MacBooks

Instead of cutting into metal bricks to deliver the promised “state of the art new products at prices competitors can’t match,” Apple is going to continue shipping revised new laptops that share design elements of the MacBook and MacBook Pro. This will likely include:

  • the same recessed keyboard of the Air and the standard MacBook on the MacBook Pro
  • a revised set of ports that appears likely to drop FireWire 400 for FireWire 800 or even FW-3200
  • a mini DVI video port to save room
  • the movement of all ports to the right side, allowing for a left side loading optical drive
  • the use of the vacated front edge to store a full width battery bay, also supplying hard drive and RAM access like the MacBook

Further, if Apple is really pushing the envelope, we’ll see an integrated display incorporated into the trackpad.

macbook touch

A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch

Articles in this Series:
What’s Next from Apple: New iPods Sept 22, iPhone OS 2.1, iTunes 8.0
Two Decades of Portable Macs: 1989 – 2009
The iPod Power Behind Apple’s Big Mac Push
A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch

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  • solipsism

    I don’t foresee Apple dropping DL-DVI for mini-DVI. There is a lack of DL capabilities which is needed to run their 30″ ACDs, even if Apple does find away to make mini-DVI DL capable, it would be simpler and more future-forward to go with the DisplayPort (or even HDMI).

  • jecrawford

    Apple may wait a few more weeks to let the financial turmoil settle down before announcing the MB (Pro) updates to ensure maximum news coverage (if possible!).

    I know Apple “invest through poor economic periods”. I hope they also “announce” their way through them.

  • http://ideasengine.cytv.com cy_starkman

    Yup.

    While you are an abrasive fellow. The scouring does create a cleaner more wholesome environment, devoid of rumour droppings.

    Though, sigh, the thought of some Animatrix styled automatic factory devoid of humans and lights pumping out zillions of incredible seamless blobs of joy all powered by emerging power technologies is pleasurable, even if in a self pleasuring kind of way.

    I remember the days of the NeXT factory, it reminds me of my own beyond the edge of tech phase. Sure you felt pretty hot and all, but really it just cost a lot and didn’t do much. As with myself Steve has grown up a bit. I figure all the ultra nerds who come up with these mad cap ideas, haven’t, that’s cool, its just a phase.

    Lastly, Netbooks? Apple has already kicked their asses. It made the iPhone.

  • http://ideasengine.cytv.com cy_starkman

    Oh

    My 1/2 a cents worth on the “brick”

    Its an old idea of mine that I couldn’t be bothered suing over.

    You make this single core (or brick) which is the action part and then wrap it in various claddings. Because you have a standardised core, its cheaper and the various claddings position it within the market.

    Doesn’t matter if it is a Macbook, an Air or an iMac. Make em all use the same core. Real cheap like, but with different bits hanging off.

    Was that 1/2 a cent, or merely a quarter of a cent

  • JulesLt

    Disagree with you on the Netbook comments – it’s clearly a growing market, and I believe it has a long way to go.

    Price cannot be the only reason why the majority of non-Apple machines in the Amazon Top 10 are netbooks, as you can get cheap (and rubbish) laptops for the similar price, so size must also be a factor.

    Mind you the MSI Wind is only 200g lighter than the MacBook Air even with a 10″ screen – so I guess the question is whether it is size or weight that people are attracted to?

    However, I also disagree with the analysts who say Apple need to be in that market – it’s still a small and young market, and one that Apple can ‘take’ later, in their usual way, once it matures, rather than reactively rushing a ‘me too’ product to market.

    (For instance, I’d buy a 9-10″ screen Air. I don’t want a small cheap computer, I want a small light computer. Many analysts confuse the two markets into one, possibly because some people are buying Netbooks because they appear to be cheap bargains, and not appreciating an 8Gb Atom based machine is cut-down).

  • Brau

    My two cents on “the brick”:

    To anyone who knows even the smallest amount about aluminum billet milling, lasers just won’t do the job or provide any real advantage. The assertion is laughable. It would be much more cost effective just to stamp out the forms.

    However, I’m betting lasers may play a part in Apple’s manufacturing process beyond the level we know currently.

    Just look at Apple’s recent acquisition of PA Semi and their statement they intend to make products the competition cannot copy. How do you do that? By developing new technologies while the other makers are still relying on surface mount processes developed way back in the 1980s. Apple did it with the plastic moulding process on the iMac, they pushed the envelope on size with the Cube/Mac Mini, and they broke the mold when they made the iPhone using a capacitive multi-touch screen. Rest assured, they are not resting and are keenly focussed on any new tech that will give them a leg up.

    There have been many examples over the last few years of microscopic printed circuitry making their way into prototype devices. These processes are tantalizing to Apple as they could allow the omission of a circuit board altogether, further allowing new radical designs and much smaller products. Some are flexible, such as Sony’s new OLED display and some can be printed on plain paper, with traces so fine they are hard to see with the human eye.

    The current silk screen surface mount technology has been pushed as far as it can go and the next level is to create circuits with finer, more accurate traces, something only a laser can achieve. Using lasers to etch circuitry directly into the body of a product, then adding layer after layer, could foreseeably result in a solid brick-like mass which would be highly dense, and remarkably durable too. It would also be feasible to design circuits flowing around certain components that at this time cannot change. It would put Apple in the clear lead and leave the others scrambling for the next five years just to upgrade their manufacturing processes.

  • http://marineimage.com Jon T

    “..an abrasive fellow..” ? Surely not!

    The netbooks are working two fads. One is that they appear ‘cute’, cuddly’ish and personal compared to normal work sized laptops. The second thing is that buyers, being fed up with the obnoxious, bossy and gargantuan nature of Windows, think this littler box will somehow reduce it to size.

    Apple should circumvent all this with an iSlate, a 6 or 7 inch tablet that can house into a 20″ or larger screen. Then you can forget Netbooks.

  • Nick Barron

    Definitely agree with the comment that analysts group together small and cheap.

    Small does not have to be cheap and vice versa.

    I would be interested in a small high quality “netbook” from Apple. though for me the proviso is FW the same thing that is unfortunately stopping me getting an Air.

  • http://unscriptable.com unscriptable

    @Brau: Your idea that “brick” could refer to stacked, micro-laser-etched circuitry is the best guess I have heard so far!

  • Tardis

    Dan,

    I agree that Apple doesn’t have to be sucked into “Netbook” space, but the Netbook phenomenon is important for one reason:

    The original “Small and cheap” eeePC became possible when a “supplier of laptop PC’s” OEM (such as Asus) to a “supplier of Windows laptop PC’s” (such as Dell) felt bold enough, and prosperous enough, to go freelance and sell them direct to the public while sidestepping the Windows part.

    This was an event equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in PC terms, and led to other laptop makers, and even committed Windows laptop makers (Dell and HP, for example), to offer their own “small and cheap” Linux-powered equivalents.

    The more recent versions, some of which run Windows XP and a few even run Vista, must surely involve Microsoft leaning on their makers and also discounting the price of the Windows OS.

    Victory to cheap and small PC users? Could be, if Ubuntu and/or some other Linux outfit could find a way to make Linux work with WiFi …………………………………..

    Meanwhile, for me, the MacBook Air is the productivity device that I will use for my work. Something smaller, however cheap, at twice the thickness and half the screen size, will only be a useless brick.

  • LuisDias

    “Brick”, if anything, is a metaphor not to be taken litterally, which is what the media and the Pouhnndits have been doing.

    It might have to do with “building” something out of many pieces of “something” combined, it may have to do with letting the consumer “build” something (in the air?) with their own “bricks” to generate a “construction” of sorts. Anyways, it can only be as a metaphor for “building” something, whenever and whatever that is, but never in the literal sense (people don’t really care that their buildings are built out of bricks or not, only if it serves them) –It’s a disaster as an end product metaphor, imagine Apple marketing the “iBrick”! .

    Of course, by not being literal, it could mean almost anything. Or nothing, it could be a fake leak. But that doesn’t sell as well, now does it?

    On The Other Hand, the idiocy of this kind of simpleton “news” journalism is a good sell, as I am sure Dan is perfectly aware :).

  • http://blog.shirl.com Bill Shirley

    i feel stupid and contagious

    laser cutting from a solid brick would be hugely wasteful, you’d then have to recycle the solid scrap from within,

    machine stamping it is totally the way to go, and i’m with you on “where’s the seam that’s causing problems?”!

    perhaps as a marketing gimmick everyone will receive a PC shaped brick to hold their office door open with

  • JohnWatkins

    I have to agree with Brau,
    People are taking the “Brick” concept too literally (brick of aluminum) and applying it to the case rather than the innards. I too think it is all about the density and durability of the computer (which is the innards.)
    The idea of dense layering of circuits whether by a leap in circuit etching technology or simply using an intermediate technology that allows denser layering of more conventional parts seems like where its going.
    The construction of the new Nanos is interesting though. It looks like their cases are made from a length of extruded aluminum that has then been machined, polished, and anodized. The case is one chunk of Aluminum (with some end caps.) The shuffle case is even simpler. Its not likely that a MB can be made in exactly this way, but perhaps some design and construction cues from the Nano will show up on the MBs.

  • PXT

    I hope that Apple are looking over the horizon, beyond the time when Microsoft is the incumbent, and planning how to succeed in that post-Alexandrian landscape.

    Apple are taking on Microsoft in one dimension, Google in another, then there are the unix variants. As Microsoft diminish, Apple must succeed against a Google that is drawing users away from the desktop and unix variants that are stable, mature and run enterprise and the internet.

  • GwMac

    Maybe the reason that Apple sells so few Mac Minis and Mac Pros is due the fact that the Mini is severely underpowered, antiquated, and expensive for what you get and the Mac Pro is too expensive.

    If Apple released a Mac Mini with a beefier CPU, say a Core 2 Duo around 2.2GHz, a 3.5″ hard drive of 500GB, either a discrete GPU or at least the newer Intel integrated (Mini is two generations out of date now) and could do it for around $599 they would sell like hotcakes. Why do they insist on using far more expensive laptop parts? Too much emphasis on form over functionality so I hope the next update will swing the pendulum back the other way. The Cube was a great computer and the only reason it failed was due to their ridiculous pricing. You could buy a more powerful Power Mac at a cheaper price than the Cube and the iMac was aslo cheaper and included a screen. Bring back that Cube concept but keep it at the current Mini pricing.

    The Mac Mini has very little value at this point in time due to it not being updated in forever. It is basically a laptop without a screen, and a low end one at that. Why would anyone buy a Mini when you can get a more powerful laptop at a cheaper price?

    As far as a cheaper Mac Pro, who cares if it would eat into iMac sales. People that want the AIO factor and don’t care about expandibility would still buy an iMac. If Apple could make midsized tower with a desktop CPU like the Core 2 instead of the Xeon, with fewer PCIe slots for around $1500 I think there would be a very big market for these computers. There are a hell of a lot of people out there that do not like the iMac for any number of reasons and cannot afford a Mac Pro. Compared to other PC makers the Mac Pro is very reasonably priced, but most people don’t need that much power.

    I already have a great name for this computer that could fill this niche in their product line, just simply call it the Mac.

    In these troubled economic times people need to see they are getting a good value for their money. People don’t mind paying the Apple tax, but if they are going to pay many hundreds more for a Mac it should at least have as good if not better specs. Apple seems as slow as ever about updating models. I thought with the switch to Intel that would improve, apparently not.

  • GwMac

    One more comment…Most computer users don;t know a great deal about computers, so one thing they have to go on is comparing the basic specs like CPU, RAM, etc..

    I have noticed that pretty much every PC now comes with either 3GB, 4GB, or sometimes even more as standard now. I saw an Acer laptop for $399 at BestBuy that even included 2GB. The $1099 entry Macbook by comparison only includes 1GB. Why is Apple so cheap about not including more standard Ram and also charge such astronomical prices to upgrade RAM?

  • GaryKPDX

    These are fascinating comments with lots of diverse speculation. Just think: Someone at Apple is laughing his/her @ss off at all but maybe one appearing on this site and elsewhere. In any case, I have sure learned a lot about manufacturing ideas by reading the comments here. Thx to all the thoughtful posts.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @GwMac: “for around $599 they would sell like hotcakes”

    Who buys millions of hotcakes? Which is my point exactly.

    Also: the new pics revealed today indicated I was right about putting the ports on the right and moving the optical drive to the left. And the shell suggests room for an LCD trackpad. That could just be a bigger Air style trackpad, but in finished shells the trackpad is generally installed into the shell, not attached later.

  • bregalad

    @GwMac
    Because they can get away with it.

    I know I’m in the minority when it comes to computing, but I will never trade performance, internal drive bays and multiple monitors for a notebook. Sitting on the couch will never be as productive as an ergonomic desk for me.

    At the same time I do appreciate the ability to access content on the go. The problem is the iPhone screen is too small for my middle-aged eyes and fat fingers. I find myself constantly zooming in, zooming out, scrolling and fixing my typing mistakes. It’s not productive at all.

    What I want, and I think it would sell well, is a super size iPod Touch/iPhone that’s still narrow enough to fit most hands (say 3.8″ wide), but offers a much taller display that would make working with documents and web content much easier. 540×960 would be a fantastic resolution because, when turned on it’s side, it’s a perfect 16:9 ratio for HD video.

  • indiana61

    “The success of Starbucks doesn’t mean that its easy to sell coffee.”

    Starbucks was no success here down under, it closed 60 stores Australia wide recently.

  • OlsonBW

    “If Apple released a Mac Mini with a beefier CPU, say a Core 2 Duo around 2.2GHz, a 3.5″ hard drive of 500GB, either a discrete GPU or at least the newer Intel integrated (Mini is two generations out of date now) and could do it for around $599 they would sell like hotcakes. ”

    You obviously don’t run a business. What you are talking about is a very low margin computer. Apple does NOT do this. And they are not about to pull the rug out from under a computer that has a lot better profit margin.

  • nelsonart

    Thanks for the NeXT factory vid. Brought back some nice memories. I still have my 68030 logic board and 040 Cube. Way ahead of its time.

    These brick rumors are ridiculous. Now maybe if Apple bought Rolex, I could see where they were coming from, but until then…

  • Shunnabunich

    I think AppleInsider had one rumour article that made passing mention of a small tablet like Jon T and bregalad mentioned, but months and months ago. Personally, I like the idea, as a tablet the size of your average laptop (which is what all those PC makers have done) would be too big to hold comfortably, and as much as I love my iPhone to bits, its screen is simply too small for many kinds of applications.

    A possible on-the-side selling point for such a “mini-tablet” could be as a remote multi-touch screen for another existing Mac, or for a larger, desk-bound counterpart like Jon T’s iMac-alike. The two could work in tandem over wi-fi, pooling processing power when in range by appropriately dividing tasks. I suppose “Portal” might be a more appropriate code name for that than “Brick”, but then again I’m probably one of the least informed commenters in this thread. :)

    The netbook “trend” is, I think, driven by a desire to have laptop-like functionality (though, not necessarily laptop-like power) in a device that can still literally be carried easily in the hand. Like I said, the iPhone has some great apps, but the screen’s a little too small for some UI designs that might be necessary to service the underlying desire that, right now, sells netbooks.

    tl;dr: Don’t mind me, guys, I’m just rambling about whatever pops into my head from reading your comments.

  • http://Lyndell.NET/wordpress/ lyndell

    Netbooks is a great idea nobody has done right. The iPod Touch does email and internet beautifully and more compactly than any EeePC. Cheaper too. I’m amazied that the EeePC cost as much as a discounted Acer.

    No optical drive and more battery is a brilliant idea I expect will proliferate. The Air does that. Of course some people will complain about not having an optical drive. I’ll joke that the iPhone doesn’t have a 5 1/4″ full height floppy drive bay.

    The graphic touchpad make me think of the MS SideShow idea; a PDA stuck in a large laptop. I think touch on the main display would be more practical.

  • http://www.lowededwookie.com lowededwookie

    The very first thing I thought when I read about this single cut form factor was my job is going to be a prick if something goes wrong.

    How do they get the board and drives and RAM and everything else into this case?

  • Joel

    “Netbooks is a great idea nobody has done right. ”

    I’m not sure how one would do it “right”. The only small factor laptop I’ve seen that I find useful is the Sony TZ series. I personally can’t get meaningful work completed with an under-powered laptop like the Eee. I could surf, read email and post rubbish to web-blogs with it. But an iPhone or a Touch can do that, and they’re both much more portable…!

  • Joel

    I also think the platform has a fundemental problem in that to get portability it restricts usability. The keyboard needs to shrunk and so does the screen. At least with a device like an iPhone/Touch these aren’t limited as much.

  • Dorotea

    I was talking about the concept of Netbooks as an ultra-portable web-surfing, email computer built for portablity. He did indeed point out that I already had that item in my iPod Touch. I just want a bigger iPod touch so that I have more screen – and its easier to read.

  • http://Lyndell.NET/wordpress/ lyndell

    By netbook done right, I simply mean a $300 12″ laptop. Dump the optical drove and junk to reduce weight and price. Anyone not tied to WinXP need not be contrained to i386. The performance expectation I’d define only as e-mail and web (no Flash). I only need, X, xterm and vi. Anything that can run X, Firefox and Thunderbird is plenty powerful. Just that would be useful for a lot of people (no everyone). 12″ is the smallest the screen and keyboard can be and still be useful. Interestingly, the smallest Apple does is 13″.

    The Air is derided as an e-mail and websurfing only computer. Hmmmph, it’s more powerful than my old Powerbook on which I edited movies. Jobs is so very right about the screen and keyboard: must be full size.

    If you want an Apple netbook, just get a 12″ Powerbook off eBay. They are plenty powerful and only $100.

  • The Mad Hatter

    OK, a few quibbles with the article:

    The reason Apple isn’t copying HP and Dell and other PC makers struggling against the tide of failure? There are two: first off, dramatic new growth in traditional desktop PC market is dead and there aren’t any signs of a potential for resurrection. It has matured, and PC makers are now scrambling to figure out how to make a cheaper, portable generation of PCs that can survive in emerging markets outside the US.

    And that is where I think Apple could do some serious damage. When you consider how the “White Boxes” are built, there are a lot of improvements that could be made, many of which would result in cost reductions. I think that Apple could make a “Brick” sized PC, a good looking, reliable, not moving parts post modernistic looking device, and sell it in their retail stores for $300.00, making a 33% margin, by using IPod parts. Yes, storage would be limited (8 gigs) but as a basic unit, it would be killer, and it would just work. Which would make it attractive as hell to those who have had the “Windows Experience.”

    Is Apple likely to do it? I don’t know. I do know that if Apple did, it would be a game changing move, and it’s not like Apple can’t sell volume items, consider the Ipod. And the IPod sales channel could be used for my concept.

    Oh, and as to selling coffee, it’s actually quite easy. What’s hard is selling quality coffee at reasonable margins, when 99% of your customers are used to drinking the coffee equivalent of battery acid :)

  • Gatesbasher

    If (and it’s a big if) there’s anything to the rumors about the “Brick” and the rumors about a new manufacturing process involving lasers and water jets, I’m not sure they have anything to do with each other.

    I agree with everybody here that carving laptop cases out of billet aluminum with lasers and water jets is impossible and ludicrous. I’ve misplaced the link, but there is a new process (which may not be fully commercialized yet) that involves scanning a laser beam and heat-sintering powdered aluminum to form one thin layer at a time, building up the part in slices. This of course leaves a stair-step profile and that is smoothed out using water jets. The advantage of this of course is no dies and easy changes through software. Apple may possibly be looking into this in the future (I doubt next Tuesday) and that could be the source of the rumor.

    If the name “Brick” has any significance (and coming from a company that named their computer “Apple” that’s not guaranteed,) another things you do with bricks is stack them. What if they put out a new mini with up-to-date parts, but thinner because it doesn’t have a built-in optical drive, but it does have a pin hole in each corner of the top. Want an optical drive? It’s the same size and 1/2″ thick. Plug it into the bottom and you’re good to go. Better video card? Buy another module and stack it on top. (It would be nice if Apple would sell empty carriers you could plug any card into, but it doesn’t sound like them.) Buttload more memory? Pile it on. There’s your mid-size Mac tower done the Apple way: couldn’t possibly be confused with some e-waste Windoze beige box.

    Well, there’s my wild theory, and I have just as much info to back it up as anybody else–none. We’ll see on Tuesday. Happy guessing one and all.

  • Joel

    Well, since Apple have the MacBook Air SuperDrive, they could produce a 12″ laptop without an optical drive quite easily. Ditto for the “Brick”. And I wonder if they would offer a Blu-ray Superdrive (mid 2009) in the future. It would make upgrading a laptop quite easy…!

    (I luckily still have a 12″ Powerbook, which is too handy for travelling to be ever put on ebay…)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple start dropping optical drives from laptops and other computers as standard fairly soon. I can easily see them opening a Mac App Store in 2010…

  • benlewis

    @Daniel: Like the Nirvana reference. Personal aircraft, hmm. I wonder if anyone’s tested the Air to see if it works with Bernoulli’s Principle?

  • http://www.ccsgraphic.com CCS

    From http://www.apple.com/macbook/
    “Precision aluminum unibody enclosure.

    From one solid piece of aluminum comes a MacBook that’s thin and light, beautifully streamlined, and durable.”
    ____________________________________

    So much for the Brick being totally myth. ;-)

  • jecrawford

    Probably “cut” from two pieces of aluminum, not a solid block.
    SJ says waste aluminum is recycled.

    I wonder what the real advantage over time is for this technology?

  • http://www.ccsgraphic.com CCS

    @jecrawford: Easier to take apart? Easier to recycle?

    Oh, and the case does make use of laser cutting too. Perforations for the sleep light. Can’t wait to inspect one up close.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    FYI:

    9to5mac said Apple would use an “entirely new manufacturing process that uses lasers and jets of water to carve the MacBooks out of a brick of aluminum.”

    BusinessWeek mused: “Screws might be minimized or eliminated entirely. Seams joining different pieces of metal would disappear.”

    These were both wrong. As I said, “lasers only cut through large blocks of metal in James Bond movies (manufacturers might use high pressure water jets to prototype models, but not to build mass produced laptop shells by the millions).”

    Apple demonstrated a process of machine milling aluminum. The video shows water being used to irrigate waste material, not to cut the metal. Apple is cutting blocks of metal, but not using water jets nor really lasers. In fact, the use of lasers to pit the surface of the sleep indicator light is extremely slight; laser etching the speaker perforations are at least visible, but certainly not anywhere near “cutting blocks of metal” to shape. Further, neither is new, as both were used in the Air in January and the Bluetooth Keyboard a year ago.

    Further, unlike BW’s speculation, there are obvious seams just like the Air and there are screws holding it together.

  • jecrawford

    @danieleran

    So what is the new Margin-reducing” “game-changing” thing that is going to shake Apple’s competitors?

    Did Apple hold off of the iPhone-like track pad because of the present economic climate? Or will the 17″ update include it in due course?

    I am interested in your views.

    John

  • jerome_from_munich

    I would like to correct something about lasers. Industrial lasers CAN cut through solid blocks of metal. For steel, something like 2cm is common. Aluminium maximal thickness is smaller, because it has a higher thermal conductivity. Laser are also used by the construction industry to cut through concrete, typically up to 10cm.

    See for examples on metal http://www.cut-tec.co.uk/laser_cutting.html and http://www.industrial-lasers.com

    [It’s not that lasers can’t cut metal, it’s that they aren’t of practical use in doing the shell milling Apple would be using to develop laptop cases. As the site you link to says, “Industrial laser cutting machines are predominantly used to cut parts from flat-sheet material.”

    Vaporizing the metal and blowing it out of the way is not really comparable with using tools to drill out precision cuts. Apple may use some applications of both lasers and water jet cutting, but it appears that nearly all of the CNC machine work done to shape the MacBooks is mechanical.

    It appears that the rumors were based on second-hand reports that lost what they were reporting in translation, and ended up with a story that made no sense. Seems to be an example of the Gettier problem.]

  • NormM

    @daniel: Although you correctly labeled the laser/waterjet rumors as ridiculous, you also said, “The future of new MacBooks is not carved blocks of metal, but rather precision stamped metal. That is demonstrated pretty clearly in the design of the MacBook Air.” You went on to use the example of the Air as proof that nothing more than stamped metal was needed to achieve various desirable characteristics. Like the rest of us, you were unaware that Apple was doing something more interesting than stamping metal for the Air.

    I only point this out because I don’t see that you have any reason to be defensive about not knowing everything. You know a lot more than any other tech pundit I’ve seen. I greatly respect and trust people who bend over backwards to point out their own errors. Only politicians are never wrong.

  • http://marineimage.com Jon T

    Glad what I said above may just be about to happen after all..

    “Apple should circumvent all this with an iSlate, a 6 or 7 inch tablet that can house into a 20″ or larger screen. Then you can forget Netbooks.”

    Apple device sized between iPhone, MacBook detected online.. http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/08/10/22/apple_device_sized_between_iphone_macbook_detected_online.html

  • PeterK

    And now I did set my MBP display resolution to 720×480 and visited Rouhlydrafted.com. It’s a apple netbook, oh gosh!