Apple's new 12" PowerBook G4 is really just a modified iBook.
With Apple's January 7, 2003 introduction of the 12" PowerBook G4, Apple has taken a page from the automakers. Although Apple won't publicly acknowledge this, Apple's new "full-featured subnotebook" is nothing more than an badge-engineered iBook. In other words, it's an iBook with a slightly more luxurious appearance and feature set, but its fundamental design, a.k.a. "platform," is the same. This is the same practice used by Honda (Honda Accord and Acura TL) Toyota (Toyota Camry and Lexus ES300) and Nissan (Nissan Maxima and Infiniti I30) among others. (See Badge Engineering.)
Not convinced? Let's take a closer look:
- Enclosure - The 12" PowerBook's shell is aluminum-alloy, and is thinner than the iBook's polycarbonate and ABS plastic enclosure. Together with a few minor tweaks (relocation of power connector and security slot, reshaping of display hinge, smaller main speakers,) Apple managed to knock .17" .3" .46" off of height, width, and depth, respectively. Its weight also dropped from 4.9 to 4.6 pounds. It's sleek and metallic, but otherwise looks basically the same as a 12" iBook.
- Internals - The main speakers are smaller, which necessitated the addition of a third midrange speaker. The aforementioned power connector moved to the left side, taking the place of the security slot, which moves just forward of the audio jack. There's also a new line-in jack. Otherwise, everything is in basically the same place. The new slot-loading optical drive is in the very same place the iBook's tray-loading mechanism. The left-side hard drive vent is still present. Look closely on hi-res photos, and you'll see that the battery is in the same place and has the same shape as the iBook's. The ports are all on the left, which infers that the iBook and the 12" PowerBook have very similar logic boards.
- Logic Board and Specs - The 12" PowerBook's logic board has a few new ICs, but is basically a beefed up version of the iBook's board.
- What's new: 867 MHz PowerPC G4 chip with 133 MHz system bus and PC2100 DDR memory support, NVIDIA GeForce4 Go 420 graphics chip, internal Bluetooth circuitry, line-in audio support, Ultra ATA/100 support, and a Mini-PCI slot for AirPort Extreme 802.11g card.
- What's the same (and glaringly different from other PowerBooks): 640 MB RAM ceiling, with 128 MB soldered to the logic board and a single SO-DIMM slot. Mini-VGA connector with analog VGA, and composite video and S-Video support, same 47-watt-hour battery, no Gigabit Ethernet, and no CardBus slot.
Apple could have designed a clean-slate product with the 12" PowerBook, as it did with the 17" PowerBook Apple also introduced at Macworld SF 2003, and come up with a product a bit smaller and much lighter. Why not? Clearly, with the economy in its current crappy state, spending gobs on R&D for a brand-new product is much more risky than simply offering an more powerful version of the same product. Apple did spend gobs on R&D for the 17" though, isn't that risky? Yes, but also keep in mind that Apple's last subnotebook offering, the PowerBook 2400c of 1997, was a commercial flop in the USA. That was six years ago, so obviously Apple wants to take its re-entry into the subnote market one step at a time.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to whine at all. Let's not forget the fact that the 12" PowerBook--particularly the SuperDrive model--kicks ass. I think Apple made the right decision to design the 12" PowerBook this way. Not only because of Apple's past history with subnotebooks, but also because the iBook is such a solid product to begin with. I love my July '02 model iBook 700 more than any other computer I've owned. I'd also consider buying a 12" PowerBook, should my needs increase.