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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:

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.