PowerPod: Ultra-Compact PowerBook Concept

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Date: Wednesday, April 16th, 2003, 00:00
Category: Archive

PowerPodWith all the recent discussions of Mac OS 10.3 “Panther” supporting multiple simultaneous graphical user logins we thought it would be a good time to re-kindle the iTablet and SuperPod topic.


PowerPodWith all the recent discussions of Mac OS 10.3 “Panther” supporting multiple simultaneous graphical user logins we thought it would be a good time to re-kindle the iTablet and SuperPod topic.

Above are some sketches of my idea for a new Apple mobile device. Note, this is purposely not attempting to look like an Apple security breach - these are just my ideas and not a rumor.

Right now Apple is following the pattern of naming the Pro user computers “Power,” as in PowerMac and PowerBook, and the consumer models as “i,” iMac and iBook, and iPod. So to fill out the offerings I am referring to this sketch concept as the PowerPod. Everybody seems to have great hopes for the iPod to grow into a multifunction device, so I am looking towards that in spirit if not fact.

What I am thinking of is basically a PowerBook reduced to its smallest possible form factor, but trying to use the technologies that Apple is already using today as much as is possible. So, I am thinking it will run MAC OS X just like a full-fledged Macintosh, and be able to use the full range of technology used by the other Macintosh offerings.

First we are going to loose the keyboard, the clamshell paradigm, and go back to something more similar to the MessagePad 2100 form factor. We are going to leverage the Inkwell technology to drop the keyboard on the go, and use a screen that takes pen input. This will be a little smaller than the tablets now being introduced in the Windows world, but more mobile.

The critical dimension is about 5″ by about 8″, 3/4 inch thick at the most, better if as thin as an ipod. Small enough that you can hold it gripped between your thumb and fingers resting in your palm and address it with a pen in the other hand. The screen will be a wide screen format, software rotatable. I am not sure of the pixel density, but I am thinking 800×480 would be a minimum to be useful for Web browsing and email on the go.

To get it this small I think Apple should leverage the iPod hard drive from Toshiba. 20GB is available now – not long ago PowerBooks were coming with 15GB hard drives so the size is workable. 40GB iPods are on the horizon as the drives have been mentioned on the Toshiba Web site, so larger drives could be readily available. No built-in optical drive of course, and the battery should also borrow from the iPods technology in the quest to make it smaller with a long runtime.

The screen perhaps could be one of the new types which don’t require backlighting in bright light (Organic LEDs, or OLEDs -Ed) for the sake of battery life. Seeing them on PDAs they never looked as good as a PowerBook screen so I am a little doubtful about that.

Now a little Mac slate will be useless if we can’t connect it in the usual way, so I propose it have the usual slew of PowerBook ports with some small modifications. First and foremost – DVI. This thing should have 32MB of video memory, enough to drive the 23″ Cinema Display. It should use the most energy efficient chip set from ATI or nVidia with battery consumption taking precedence over Quake frame rates. They should be able to have it go into a low energy mode while only driving the small on board display.

The DVI port will allow it to drive projectors and with Apples DVI to ADC box, to connect to their handsome LCD monitors. Now you have a reasonable platform to work with in the office. Next, one USB port. That’s all you need on the run, and after you have it plugged into your Apple monitor you will have the usual two on hand. One combo FireWire, and Power supply port. Thats right, just like the iPod it will rely on the FireWire port for its power supply connection, but unlike the iPod the PowerPod’s Firewire power supply plug will feature a pass through socket to plug in an external device at the same time. We are leveraging a good technology to save space.

Then a combo Ethernet/modem port. Yes, you know you can plug an RJ11 plug into a n RJ45 socket – it just fits in the middle. Rather than waste space for two sockets that are rarely used at the same time while on the go, they are replaced by an auto sensing socket that handles both functions. Next is a sound out jack, and elsewhere on the unit a headphone jack. All these ports will line up, iBook style along the top back edge of the unit rather than the side.

In the wireless world it should probably come equipped with Bluetooth, and have the usual Airport option. Now it has all the connectivity of a powerbook, it is running a full version of OS X and it is connectable to a full size screen for legitimate work at a desktop. On the go it will have all the connectivity of a PowerBook and a fraction of the weight and size. The pen based interface with Inkwell will be more than sufficient for on the go web browsing and email, and the ability to drive a projector or large monitor for Keynote presentations is there as well. It is also bound to open up the market for small keyboards, as well as portable mice.

There are three modes of use then. One as a tablet or slate, or whatever you would like to call it. The second as a “desktop” connected portable. The third mode would be using a dock, or base station ala the PowerBook Duo. This would provide an elegant way to plug your PowerPod into your desktop workstation and avoid making all the individual cable connections. Rather than the vcr tape paradigm used for the Duo, I think this is another opportunity to leverage existing technology – the LCD iMac to be exact.

Using the iMac as a mule for a docking station is a natural. The PowerPod unit can settle into a holder on the adjustable arm where all the ports on the back could plug in. The units small screen would be facing out and could still be used as a small monitor with all the great adjustability of the iMac. It should not weigh too much more than the iMacs large 17″ display. The base unit would supply power, and could have built in DVI to ADC hardware allowing you to connect the Apple ADC displays directly to the base. The base would also have an optical drive, and an additional 3 1/2″ hard drive, both items that could be optioned up in different configurations including a DVD burning superdrive.

All the other usual ports could be present in the usual locations at the back of the hemisphere base. An alternative method of making the connection would be a broad docking connector across the bottom, similar to the Duos connector. The upside of this is you could offer direct access to the PowerPods motherboard for possible system upgrades within the base – a slot? The down side is creating new, more complicated technology.

That’s the concept. The segment of PowerBook users that have always sought out the smallest possible machine has always been a strong and faithful contingent. That combined with the almost obsessively faithful Newton users, and the Japanese users may spell a market large enough to make this a viable product. What do you think? How would you use such a device? What processor do you think it should carry? An energy thrifty and speedy G3, or a balls out Final Cut Pro busting G4? How about Ram expandability – slots add size? How about the price point – what should the PowerPod alone come in at – less than a 12 PowerBook? What should a unit plus a base station be – about the same as a 17″ PowerBook?

Description of sketches above:

Left: Here you can see the iMac based docking station in the background, with the Powerpod docked into the adjustable holder. Isn’t it cute! A tinsy winsy iMac! This station would offer serious desktop connectivity. A viable workstation depending on the processor on board.

Middle: This shows the unit standing up on the integral stand. I am imagining dented stops in the stands range which would give you several viewing angles. This would allow you to connect your desktop cables to the ports along the top back of the unit. Kind of crazy to work
on such a small screen, but with a larger monitor attached it makes a good place to stow your mail window and iChats buddy window.

Right: This shows the unit laying flat with its integral stand folded. I am imagining it would have a screen cover of some sort – similar to the MessagePad 2100 that folded around and flat against the back of the unit so it could be out of the way completely.

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