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Article: Where Are the Subnotebooks?

by on April 13, 2001

The PowerBook 100

In 1991, Apple introduced the first PowerBooks. There were 3 of them – the 170 (top of the line), the 140 (midrange), and 100. We are going to focus on the 100 for right now. It was smaller than its siblings, and the disk drive was external. It was designed by Sony for Apple and basically took the computing power of the Mac Portable, or twice as fast as a Mac Plus, and put it in a lightweight 5.1-pound package that was easy to carry and got excellent battery life.

The Duos

In 1992, Apple introduced the Duo line. At that same time, there was the PowerBook 160 (midrange), and the 180 (top of the line). The Duo series was based on the concept of taking what you needed and leave what you don’t need behind. The only problem was that you needed docking adapters for almost everything, except the internal modem, and LocalTalk port. The Duo line proved very successful.

In 1994, the Duo line was still going strong. Along with the Duo 280 (the best 68k Duo ever built), there was the PowerBook 540c (top of the line), the PowerBook 520c (midrange), and the PowerBook 150 (el cheapo).

1995 came, and Apple released new PowerBooks again. The Duo was made a PowerPC in the 2300c. The 500 series of regular PowerBooks were replaced by the 5300 line. The 150 was replaced in one way or another by the 190, which was a scaled down 5300 with a 68LC040 processor. Out of all these, the Duo was the only one that didn’t have defects.

The 2400c & Beyond

By 1997, the Duo line was history, and Apple was working with IBM Japan to create a Duo-like subnotebook that didn’t need the dock, but filled the subnotebook gap in their product line. You had the 1400 (the affordable one) and the 3400 (the expensive go-all-out model). The result for a subnotebook was the 2400c. It wasn’t a Duo, as it had all the standard ports, but did have an external floppy drive. It packed all the power of the low end 3400c into a small, less than 5-pound computer. To put it short, it was a runaway success, especially in Japan where subnotebooks are very popular.

Unfortunately, in 1998, when Steve Jobs came back to Apple, that meant the death of the current PowerBooks. Instead there was the G3 high-end, and the G3 low-end. Both computers had huge footprints, but were thin. The huge footprints made it hard to use them in an airplane tray table.

In 1999, the iBook was introduced, filling the affordable PowerBook gap the 1400 series left. Now, the G3 was the high end, the iBook was the low end. The subnotebook has been gone since 1998.

Today, in 2001, Apple still has a high end PowerBook, the G4 (which is bigger than its predecessor), and the iBook. There still is no subnotebook. What if Apple got Sony or IBM Japan to build one? What if it had the footprint of a 500 series PowerBook, but was thin, like the new titanium G4? It could have a 10.4″ screen, and an external CD-ROM (maybe DVD or CD-RW?) drive that plugged in through USB. It could come in titanium, like the G4, but cost a few hundred less. It would be small and easy to carry, but had all the features of its larger sibling, the G4. It could be based on a G3 processor or maybe a G4. It wouldn’t need a dock, since it would have USB, Firewire, Ethernet, a 56k modem, and sound input/output. Sure, a black case (or maybe gray) would look retro for the PowerBook, but you know as well as I that Apple never would. Someone could get a USB floppy drive and they’d basically have an updated PowerBook 100 back from 1991.

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