What Would a MacBook Tablet Look Like?

Dec.12.07 | About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

By Carl Howe

After I browsed through Time Magazine's top 10 gadgets of 2007 today and noted its selection of Apple's iPhone as the #1 gadget, I came across this Toshiba subnotebook with solid-state storage as Time's #7 pick. The more I looked at it, the more I thought, "Gee, that could easily be a next-generation MacBook." Why? Well because it:

  • Weighs half of what existing MacBooks do. With an optical disk drive, this notebook weighs in at a mere 2.4 pounds. Now that's a product any road warrior can carry, without sacrificing the ability to watch DVDs on a plane or make backups of an important presentation.

  • Boasts a solid-state disk. The press has been abuzz about the potential for Apple eliminating spinning disk drives in its notebooks just as it has in the iPod touch and iPhone. The Toshiba Portege proves such a feature makes sense in a production device.

  • Sports a design reminiscent of the latest generation iMacs The black screen combined with the silvery pseudo-metalic finish on the rest of the notebook resonates nicely with the latest black-and-aluminum iMac designs (see picture above).

Now I can hear the groans noting that a simple MacBook update that mimics a six-month-old Toshiba isn't exactly the stuff of MacWorld keynotes. And that's why I expect that this MacBook replacement that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will introduce will have some nice little differentiators that will still generate some oohs and ahs from users. Specifically, I believe that Apple will include:

  • Sexier packaging and materials Walt Mossberg panned this Toshiba Portege because it felt fragile as glassware. Apple has moved to colored aluminum enclosures for its current generation iPods; I expect to see similar materials and packaging attention to detail that will make this new MacBook feel solid and attractive to consumers, despite its light weight.

  • A reversible touch-enabled display. Already the hallmark of Windows-based tablet computers, I believe that Apple will incorporate new LED-backlit displays that can be folded over to create a flat, touch-enabled surface. When set up in this way, the computer will look like a giant iPhone-like display with similar interaction modes. When opened the other way, the MacBook will work like a normal notebook computer.

  • A multi-touch keyboard. Apple has noted publicly that unlike the iPhone, you need more than a touch screen for great user experience on a notebook or desktop computer. Fortunately, Apple already has a patent on a keyboard that allows multi-touch gesturing as well as providing haptic feedback necessary for touch typing for long periods of time. This multi-touch keyboard surface would be an ideal bridge between the iPhone and sub-notebook experience -- and would eliminate the need to clean fingerprints from the notebook screen several times a workday when you are sitting at your desk working.

  • New Mac OS X multi-touch-enabled applications. Expect to see notebook applications that have the same radical one-touch simplicity that users have come to expect on the iPhone. These won't be heavy-lifting computing apps like Pages or Numbers, but more lightweight apps like we see on today's Leopard Dashboard. In fact, these may actually be Dashboard Widgets given one-touch icons for casual use without opening the laptop or using the keyboard.

Such a product would be a worthy follow-on to Apple's successful, yet 18-month-old MacBook line. It would also be the first real packaging revision to its notebook line since Apple converted to Intel processors. We'll find out how close this is to the truth in just over a month from now when Steve Jobs takes the stage at MacWorld San Francisco. But speaking as someone who will be in the market to replace his nearly five year old PowerBook in January, I'd be first in line to buy one.

Disclosure: Author is long AAPL.