Apple Ultraportable on September 5th?

Apple Just over a month and a half ago, there were rumors of some kind of “Ultra-thin, Ultra-light” Apple notebook. They concerned an ultraportable Mac with a 12″ widescreen display (something the 12″ iBooks and PowerBooks didn’t have), that weighed around three pounds, and was around 3/4″ thick (very doable with today’s LED-backlit displays). That did not come to pass at the time.

Low and behold, tomorrow, September 5th, there is going to be a major announcement from Apple, with a definite iPod flavor and potentially a Beatles theme. You can view the invitation at AppleInsider.com – it features a yellowish motif and the words “The beat goes on”. Depending on what era you first started listening to music, that either invokes memories of Sonny and Cher, or thoughts of the Beatles’ final press release from April 10, 1970:

Spring is here and Leeds play Chelsea tomorrow and Ringo and John and George and Paul are alive and well and full of hope.

The world is still spinning and so are we and so are you.

When the spinning stops — that’ll be the time to worry, not before.

Until then, the Beatles are alive and well and the beat goes on, the beat goes on.

It’s no secret that Apple (Steve Jobs) has been wanting to add the Beatles to iTunes, and so far three out of the four Beatles’ solo libraries have been added, or are in the process of being added. I think it’s pretty safe to say that they are adding the Beatles (especially now that the lawsuit between Apple, Inc., and Apple Records is over). I wouldn’t be surprised to see new iPods as well.

However, I’m not here to discuss iPods and the Beatles (although I like both), I was asked by a couple of people what I thought, and here goes:

– The engine is there for an Apple ultraportable laptop – Intel has given them a wide range of CPU choices that could easily fit into everything from a 10″ to a 12″ Apple laptop. Apple just has to decide if they want power (full-blown Intel Core 2 Duos, such as what the MacBook has) and the heating side effects and lowered battery life that go with it. They can go with a Core 2 Duo U7500 or U7600 Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) CPU that gives them a much longer battery life and lowered requirements with cooling (including going fanless, which would help them reduce the size – more on that in a minute).

– The displays are there – LED-backlit displays are finally rolling out in the 12″ widescreen form factor. These reduce the footprint/thickness of the displays, as well as increase the battery life.

– Flash memory – it’s no secret that Apple loves flash memory – most of their iPods lines, as well as the iPhone, use flash memory. Apple gets good deals on flash memory as well, as they buy well in advance, and in bulk (some have made the claim that Apple helps prop up the flash memory industry at times). Using a Solid State Disk/Drive (SSD) makes sense at this point, as that would help lower power consumption as well as reduce weight. I don’t see cost being a factor for Apple at 32GB or 64GB sizes, but it’s hard to say.

Those three things – an Intel U7500 or U7600 CPU, with no fan needed, an LED-backlit display, and a flash memory-based drive, could make for a truly ultraportable Mac. Don’t forget – 12″ iBooks and PowerBooks were very popular, and ever since they’ve been discontinued, people have asked about them, as well as the 13″ MacBooks have sold well. Together, they also reduce the size of battery required (which again, drives down the weight and size).

Profits? The ultraportable segment of the notebook industry is very popular, and for some (Sony, etc.), probably very profitable since they can command premium prices the smaller and lighter they go. Macs are selling like never before, with Apple marketshare on the rise. It would be foolish for Apple to ignore the market for too long.

Touchscreen? Dell is rolling out the Dell Latitude XT – there version of the Tablet PC/laptop convertible, and Dell typically doesn’t jump into markets unless they think there is a serious demand and profits to be made, and Apple is the same way – for the longest time, they did not offer ultraportable iPods (such as the iPod nano and iPod Shuffle), because the profit margins and demand weren’t right. When those two came together, Apple jumped into those markets in a big way.

On top of that – Apple has filed for numerous touchscreen patents, as well as patents pertaining to reducing the size of laptops (including internal optical drives, and new port layouts), and while many of those touchscreen patents are being used in the iPhone (and presumably future iPods), many more were for much larger screens. Combine that with Apple wanting to push it’s operating system, Mac OS X, onto all of its devices (OS X powers the iPhone as well as Apple’s desktop, notebook, and servers) – well the expertise and programming hooks for touchscreen interfaces for Mac OS X will definitely be there (and Leopard, aka Mac OS X 10.5, Apple’s next iteration of its OS, was delayed so that some OS X engineers could work on the iPhone).

Then there is the manufacturing part of things – many of the companies that Apple uses to produce their machines and/or components also make ultraportables, or their components, for other companies. This wouldn’t be something completely brand new to them.

So, with all of that in mind, do I think it’ll be tomorrow? No, tomorrow matches up timing wise with last year’s iPod upgrades, and the announcement is clearly iPod and/or Beatles related. A 12″ Apple ultraportable would be, in my mind, bigger news (or at least as big) as a new iPod, because it would be both a new market and a market that Apple would be returning too (Apple was one of the first to roll out ultraportables with some of its early PowerBooks).

I would not be surprised to see one announced next January at Macworld. All of the ingredients are there, it’s just a matter of waiting to hear Steve Jobs say “and one more thing”.

– Dan
“And the site goes on”

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