The Argument for 3G MacBooks

A while back — when a non-unibody MacBook Pro prototype showed up on eBay with a complete 3G setup — I was going to write a little post about how Apple really needs a 3G MacBook. Things happened and the post was forgotten. Until now, when I was cleaning out my drafts folder and I saw the file name and thought: this is more true now than it ever has been.

Up and until a few months ago the following used to be true about 3G wireless internet:

  1. It was slow.
  2. It was expensive.
  3. It wasn’t really needed.

Obviously one is no longer true, with the 4S capable of speeds that are much faster than many home broadband connections (my 4S gets me between 4-7Mbps download at my home). You may argue that ~$25 for 2GB of data is pricey, but in practice not many people (even heavy users) come close to this amount each month and the general ubiquity of WiFi and better software monitoring built into the OS would help mitigate the need for more data thus removing number two as a factor.

The third item though is what has really changed — more and more the average user could really benefit from easy 3G access on their MacBooks to keep on “working”.

Multiple Devices

At this point I think it is pretty safe to say that most Mac users are also toting a secondary device — likely one of either an iPhone or iPad, perhaps both. It used to be that these secondary devices were strictly used for a particular type of task — likely communication or short-term entertainment — now though these devices are increasingly used to create.

So what happens when a savvy traveler gets off the plane after crafting a report on his iPad and arrives at his hotel. His hotel is one that someone shelled out big bucks for and because of this the hotel has a paid WiFi network that has a relatively poor speed — perhaps the network is even just Ethernet only (not uncommon in stupid expensive hotels) and he only has a MacBook Air. 1

Now you can’t work on that report until you find an Internet connection, thus you have a crappy scenario for most users. With a 3G connection on your MacBook Air you would have solved this lacking all the pain associated with how things currently are. The experience would have been far better for the user.

Cloud

More over, we are increasingly becoming dependent on internet connected services to “work”. Where it used to be that all you needed was a computer, fax, and a floppy disk, the web is more often becoming a floppy disk and the fax has been replaced by online communication systems.

So guess what? You are not alone when you feel like your computer is ham strung by the fact that you don’t have a working Internet connection. It’s increasingly more true that a person can’t compute without the Internet.

iCloud

The above didn’t matter much to Apple because their cloud services were limited and it was always the feeling at Apple that email was just as good on your iDevice.

With iCloud 3G becomes a bit more important.

If Apple wants to sell iCloud as a Dropbox like service that just works to keep your documents updated on every device, well your device is going to need a reliable way to get on the Internet no matter where you are. That is: you can’t show a commercial with a traveler working on an iPad while flying, getting off the plane, sitting down with the MacBook, and opening that same document. Because right now that scenario actually looks like this:

  • Get off plane.
  • Connect iPad back to 3G
  • Wait for sync
  • Open MacBook Air
  • Find a WiFi network
  • Pay for WiFi and/or accept a ToS to use it
  • Test if it is actually working
  • Try again
  • Sync with iCloud

Some steps can’t be eliminated, but 3G would eliminate most of the problems with “free” or “public” or “available” WiFi networks: mainly that you are often better off not using them. Every iPhone and 3G iPad owner knows what it is like to use a device without having to worry about an Internet connection — bliss.

A Real Need

It’s true that I have mostly centered these examples around travelers and that this group has always had a need for these types of devices, but I think now the average consumer really has a need for these devices too.

When you really think about how the average person is using their computers, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that the overwhelming majority of what most people do on a computer is web-centric.

Taking a look at how my Wife uses her computer to it becomes clear to me that often the most powerful and convenient tool she has is her iPhone 4. She has a full Apple compliment of devices: iPhone 4, iPad, MacBook Pro. However only the iPhone has a cellular connection and my Wife can often be heard saying: “My iPad is useless without 3G.”

She feels the same way about her MacBook Pro, but truth be told she just means that for her any computing tool is useless if it doesn’t have an Internet connection — I agree.

So it’s quite obvious that with more and more cloud enabled users, creating a seamless and “just works” Internet connection is becoming even more important to crafting a great user experience. It’s just that this isn’t all there is, because if that was all, the easier solution is to get more WiFi hotspots or go to Starbucks which is minimally painful to use WiFi at (and free). So it’s not about easy spots to get Internet — it’s about constantly being able to be connected without searching it out.

Security

You see the last bit that is going to become increasingly more problematic with more and more less paranoid and security conscious users on “cloud” services is the security of all these free WiFi hotspots (that are incredibly important to today’s computer users).

If you keep all your financial data in a Numbers spreadsheet that is seamlessly synced via iCloud along with your calendars and the schedule of your kids — it certainly wouldn’t take much for someone to swipe that data for you on a maliciously setup, free, WiFi network. Which means you need a VPN, and while services like Cloak make it dead simple, they also are services that the average user must seek out — something that I doubt many users will know that they should seek out.

Thus the more private data we keep in the “cloud” (and we are increasing the amount we keep there very quickly) the more we need to make sure that the networks we use to access this data is not only ubiquitous, but is relatively secure. Not only then would a 3G MacBook be more convenient, it would be more secure.

Security, convenience, and a better user experience all come from a 3G/Cell equipped MacBook — sounds pretty Apple-ish to me.

UPDATED (on Oct 24, 2011): Apparently iCloud is securing with SSL, so that shouldn’t be a security concern. Thanks to those that emailed this in.

  1. Argue all you want, but I have found that the more expensive the establishment the worse the WiFi and more expensive the connection cost. The Trump International in Miami set me back $17.99 a day for 756Kbps speed — a day.
Originally posted for members on: October 24, 2011
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