Could a Jumbo MacBook Replace the iMac?

jumbomacbookIn the lull between Christmas and New Years, Intel released its new Q9000 quad-core mobile processor, and PC maker Acer almost simultaneously its Q9000-powered Aspire 8930G-7665 “extreme gaming” and multimedia notebook computer with an 18″ 1920 x 1080 pixel 16:9 aspect ratio display.

Many Mac notebook fans and watchers had been hoping that Apple would roll out a quad-core powered MacBook Pro at Macworld Expo, which didn’t happen. The new 17″ unibody MBP comes with slightly faster 2.66 GHz and 2.93 GHz processors as opposed to the 2.4 GHz and 2.53 GHz chips offered in the 15″ unibody model.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I’ve long advocated that Apple build a real desktop substitute laptop, and that big new Acer machine got my imagination juices flowing. The new Apple 17-incher is a nice piece of work, but I still hope Apple will at some point use that Q9000 quad-core chip in a MacBook Pro.

Enhanced Connectivity And Expandability

A quad-core MacBook Pro would be cool, so long as they can keep the heat generated within reason, but aside from desktop-like processor power, what I would really like to see in a jumbo Apple notebook is restoration, and even enhancement, of the connectivity and expandability standards set by the 1978 WallStreet G3 Series PowerBook, with its two PC Card slots, two removable device expansion days (even one would be a quantum improvement on the current status quo), ease of opening the machine up to perform component upgrades and repairs, and a motherboard design allowing processor (and ideally video accelerator) upgrades. A larger laptop could also theoretically cool more efficiently.

Replace The iMac With A Jumbo Notebook?

Raw bulk and weight is of course not the point, nor is just larger screen size. I’ll even stick my neck out a little farther and suggest that Apple might consider replacing the iMac with this type of portable machine. From time to time I’ve been nearly convinced that an iMac would make the best sense, and certainly be the best value for the money power-wise for me as a workstation, but the biggest sticking point for me is the lack of battery power.

The biggest advantage of a portable computer is that it is portable — a completely self-contained computing unit when it needs to be — a single module that can be packed around easily and conveniently whether to the next room or to another continent. Personally it isn’t so much that I use my main production Mac laptop in portable mode very often (although it’s very convenient at times to be able to) but rather that I prefer to be able to keep computing through power interruptions, which are not uncommon where I live, and I really detest losing unsaved data because of even short power outages.

Duo Redivivus

Perhaps even cooler, since I’m letting my imagination off its leash, would be to replace the iMac with a portable machine loosely based on another erstwhile Apple great idea — the PowerBook Duo. The computer would be modular, with a docking CPU core unit that could serve as either the CPU module of a desktop iMac replacement that might also be offered at the entry-level without a battery and could be sold with a built-in (detachable) monitor, or “headless” to be used with an external display of the customer’s choice a la the Mac mini.

The same CPU unit would also form the basis of a portable/big laptop with a built-in keyboard and trackpad and a battery in one or both of its double expansion bays. It would be processor upgradable, ideally with PCI and AGP expansion slots, an ExpressCard 54 slot or two, multiple RAM expansion slots, and upgradable video support. Beauty.

A Notebook That Is Anything But Secondary

Maybe I’m not so far out with this line of speculation. BusinessWeek’s resident Apple-watcher Arik Hessendahl observes that notebooks are where the money is these days and “what used to be a secondary sibling to the desktop is now increasingly the only computer anyone wants or needs,” which has notebook makers adding top-shelf features designed to attract the attention of power users, serious gamers, and others who need a notebook that is anything but secondary — often called “desktop replacements.”

In a recent commentary, The Industry Standard’s Ian Lamont suggests that while Apple has been able to keep the iMac on the leading edge of design and consumer demand, the traditional desktop iMac can’t outrun trends developing in the marketplace, notably the ongoing shift to notebook computers. Lamont points out that Apple’s 2008 10-K illustrates this with the company’s overall notebook sales more than doubling from 2006 to 2008, compared to only a 70 percent rise in Apple desktop sales.┬áLamont thinks Apple may discontinue the iMac altogether, I’m doubtful about that, but I do think a jumbo notebook could very feasibly replace the iMac, which incorporates a lot of notebook engineering these days anyway. What do you think?

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