3G MacBook Follow-up

After posting my 3G MacBook post I have been getting quite a few more emails than normal. The bulk of which agree that Apple should provide such an option, but worry that it never will for various reasons.

Among those reasons the most common are: the iPhone already has a personal hotspot mode, data plans are expensive and this would add yet another data plan to pay for, and lastly that the data caps are so low such a computer is not realistic. I want to take a moment to better explain why I think all of these are poor excuses for Apple to not make a 3G equipped MacBook.

Personal Hotspots

The argument here is that Apple provided the personal hotspot mode on the iPhone so that it didn’t have to set about installing 3G in a MacBook.

I disagree.

I think the more likely reason Apple provided the personal hotspot mode is because they wanted to check the box on the feature comparison list with other smart phones. This feature of the iPhone never gets a ton of billing from Apple, likely because it is a quick fix to the deeper, more complex, problem of internet everywhere.

The main problems with a personal hotspot mode are:

  1. It requires you to own two Apple devices. Something that Apple has been trying to stay away from doing ever since they introduced the first iPod. Take for example the fact that now, under iOS 5, a user can fully setup and restore an iPhone or iPad without the need for a computer.
  2. It is a clunky, non-seamless, system. To get hooked up you have to turn it on and then connect to it. This is not the type of solution that Apple likes.
  3. It’s a drain on the iPhone battery — something Apple goes to incredible lengths to prolong.

The iPhone personal hotspot is a stop-gap, not a solution.

Data Plans: Pricing

Many have also commented that data plans are already pricy and the last thing Apple would want is to saddle users with yet another data plan. I largely agree with this, but I also see it as something that is mostly out of Apple’s control and thus something they would just ignore.

While it would be ideal if you could share a data plan between your iPhone and iPad, that is simply not the case in the U.S.. I would suspect that Apple doesn’t much care about this, as the likelihood of a user having three data plans for three Apple devices is lower than most of the readers of this site suspect it is.

I would guess that any 3G enable MacBook would have the same data plans and options as the iPad does: simple and à la carte.

Data Plans: Caps

Something that I had completely forgotten to address in my last post was my idea behind how Apple could deal with data caps for 3G toting MacBook users. If we assume that any 3G plan in the U.S. for a MacBook would only go as high as 2GB (maybe 5GB in rare cases) then it is safe to assume that this is not nearly enough bandwidth for the average user.

Many readers wrote in about the potential for overage charges when you decide to download a movie on the go, or backup to Backblaze and other services. I think these readers missed the larger point of: this is not what a 3G MacBook would be for.

I never meant to imply that we need a 3G MacBook so that we can go about our regular internet connected lives, I was simply saying that there is a subset of core services that we need and should be able to access anytime we want. Things like syncing files and checking websites.

You would be hard pressed to go over a 2GB data cap if you stuck to actual work while on 3G. Still though I think there is an easier solution: create a bandwidth monitor mode in OS X.

I would see it working like this:

  • OS X detects that a user is on 3G and automatically shuts off all known services that hog bandwidth.
  • OS X only allows user directed interject connectivity. (e.g. The users says fetch email, update Twitter, the user said go to this page.) All background internet enabled services are suspended.
  • There is a custom setting that a user can tweak to grant permission to certain apps, much in the same vein as how the current firewall or Spotlight settings work.

The goal would be to create a version of OS X that would help to limit internet traffic while on 3G — all without interfering with how the user is directing the computer to act. I think such a solution is not only doable, but would be quite user friendly in a 3G MacBook scenario.

Two Reasons Against 3G

Demand and battery life hits to the MacBooks.

Originally posted for members on: October 26, 2011
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