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 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.