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Summary:

As if I didn’t have enough USB sticks sitting around doing nothing (512KB flash drives, Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless dongles, etc.). Now it looks like my 3G mobile broadband USB modem might soon join the ranks of the neglected and forgotten. Not because 4G networks are […]

nousbstickAs if I didn’t have enough USB sticks sitting around doing nothing (512KB flash drives, Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless dongles, etc.). Now it looks like my 3G mobile broadband USB modem might soon join the ranks of the neglected and forgotten. Not because 4G networks are being built out as we speak, but because it looks like Apple is gearing up to start building 3G radios into their notebook computers. It’s about time, too, and frankly I’m surprised that more computer manufacturers haven’t gone this route long ago, considering the significant added incentive to buyers of having wide-coverage Internet access built in to their machines.

News of the new direction for Mac hardware comes from job postings, which have been garnering quite a bit of attention for Apple lately, considering the recent buzz about chip-making related positions. Now Cupertino seems to be looking for a few good 3G QA, design, and testing engineers to join their camp. The job descriptions, listed on their Hardware Engineering jobs site, list a variety of wireless specifications, with 3G among them, and the jobs in question talk about Mac applications specifically, so this isn’t just an iPhone-oriented position, as I initially suspected.

There’s already been all kinds of buzz about AT&T or other telcos offering bundles, including both 3G wireless plans and subsidized MacBooks, but so far nothing’s come of it. It’s very possible that either AT&T or Apple floated the rumor in order to try to gauge customer interest in such a package, and are only now moving to build the tech into their hardware because the response they received indicated that it would be worth their while. Question is, how much of a premium will Apple be charging for the new hardware addition, if any, and what kind of plans will the cell phone companies be able to offer?

Even if Apple is going forward with this, and the deal is good, there’s also the fact that tethering is apparently included in iPhone OS 3.0 to consider. Why would they shoot themselves in the foot, so to speak, by offering iPhone users a way to use 3G mobile broadband with their MacBooks without taking advantage of a built-in in antenna? There’d be no incentive for owners of those devices to sign up for an additional plan to take advantage of built-in MacBook 3G access.

It’s possible that the price of purchasing 3G antennas has become so affordable that Apple is willing to put them in as just one more incentive for prospective buyers, rather than as a significant selling point. Personally, I know I’d rather have it than not, even if my iPhone is able to tether on my existing wireless plan. We’ll just have to wait and see what develops, which will likely take at least a year, considering the types of positions Apple is hiring for.

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  1. they aren’t exactly shooting in their own feet:

    The iPhone for everyone who already has a Mac as a 3G tethering option
    The built in chip for everyone else (those who have an iPod Touch) or for those people who buy a new one.

    This means: 2 ways for Apple to sell 3G options for their laptops, means more money coming from AT&T contracts.

  2. Constable Odo Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Won’t having 3G built into all notebooks increase bandwidth use to the point that nobody will be getting telephone calls? AT&T won’t be able to keep up building infrastructure at this rate. Especially in large cities such as N.Y. or L.A. It seems like good revenue for carriers if their networks can carry the load without dropped calls and such, but I don’t think they’ll be able to carry the load.

    I’m thinking that Apple is just going to put 3G in their future tablet or pad to compete with the Kindle. And they may even cripple it to throttle down bandwidth use.

  3. Putting a 3G radio into Macs isn’t going to make those USB sticks obsolete because Apple seems to be fixated with dictating your mobile phone provider.

    In North America Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Telus, Bell, Virgin, etc. customers won’t be able to use a 3G Mac with their account unless they get a stick from their mobile provider or switch to AT&T / Rogers.

    I realize that’s the point, to force people to buy service from Apple’s preferred partners, but I’m worried it could backfire because the hardware will be built into the price of the MacBook and nobody likes paying for something they can’t use.

  4. austinandrew Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    It’s about time. Just one of the reasons I’ve never considered a mac is because they don’t have integrated 3G broadband. I can get that with a PC.

    Also with a PC I can choose many brands which lets me choose the carrier of my choice.

  5. Joseph McLaughlin Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    It’s not shooting themselves in the foot. Why would you drain both your computer and iPhone battery to tether, when you can choose to only drain one devices battery (granted, at a slightly faster speed).

    I would love this option and would venture a guess that it would be a no cost upgrade. (As long as you purchase a data plan)

    One thing to think about though, is the possibility of a 3G unlock. iPhone hackers have already accomplished it with the limitations of the iPhone software (yeah, I know they hacked it, but it’d be a lot easier on the Mac).

  6. Makes sense to me they would do this

  7. I think this would be the best thing since sliced bread – if they would offer casual plans / adhoc option. I hardly have the need for 3G but when I need it, it would be great to have it integrated and just land on a portal page where you read news etc. and unlock it for a day or even a few hours with your credit card / itunes account.

    I don’t want to have another account or monthly bill but being able to switch it on when you travel would be brilliant.

    just my 2 cent

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