Apple notebooks have been a major part of the company and their success in the computer market. That’s because they have a certain feel to them that even users who don’t care for Macs can appreciate. It’s time to take a look at some of the past designs in Apple notebooks and take a look at how they’ve evolved over the years.
Hit the jump to look at the company’s history of laptops:
The Macintosh Portable – September 1989
This computer wasn’t exactly a laptop, but it was the first Apple computer to be considered truly portable in that it folded up and could be (somewhat?) carried away. It’s hard to believe that one of the available models had no backlit screen, and the thing set you back $6,500. Which these days will buy you a 12-core Mac Pro with a few add-ons at the Apple Store.
Powerbook 100 Series – October 1991
These were Apple’s first real laptop. The design set the standard for what would later become part of the typical consumer notebook. It added the space for the palm rests and placed the trackball (later replaced with trackpads) in the middle, where it would sit between the wrists.
PowerBook Duo – 1992
This laptop was definitely compact for the time, and may be more along the lines of the MacBook Air today. Wikipedia describes them as “very thin and lightweight laptops with a minimum of features.” How small was it? Try 4.1 pounds and about 10.9 x 8.5 at 1.4-inch thick. That’s a smaller footprint than many of today’s laptops, but it’s pretty thick and very heavy compared to what many of us are used to these days.
PowerBook 5300 Series – August 1995
These are described as the first Apple laptop to be equipped the PowerPC line of processors that would power Apple computers for many years to come. Despite being a major upgrade over previous generations of Apple laptops, this was regarded as one of Apple’s worst products of all time. It was notorious for its exploding batteries, hinge problems and heating issues.
PowerBook 1400, 2400 and 3400 – October/November 1996
These laptops were released about a year after the poorly-received PowerBook 5300 (also known as the FireBook) and ran for $2,499. These notebooks were the first in Apple’s line to feature a CD-Rom Drive (Zip and the floppy drives were also available at the time). What was most interesting about the computer was that the drive was swappable, so you could use any of the three disc types with the computer. The feature was introduced with the 5300 line, which was short-lived thanks to the problems it had.
PowerBook G3 – November 1997
This is when laptops started becoming more attractive. They were available with 12-, 13- and 14-inch displays and featured a nicer, curvy design unlike past laptops from Apple, which were very boxy in appearance.
PowerBook G4 Titanium (TiBook) January 2001
This is when Apple started using metals for the outer-housing of their laptops. It was made out of titanium, and became known lovingly by its owners as the TiBook. They were very slim for the time at just one inch, and had the slot-loading optical drive.
PowerBook G4 Aluminum (AlBook) – January 2003
This was Apple design at its best, and would eventually set the tone for their future professional laptops. Though looking back at our old Aluminum PowerBook G4 12-inch, the poor thing is barely functional and looks ancient by today’s standards, it was still one of our favorite laptops ever. Apple stuck to this basic design while upgrading their processors over the years until the MacBook Pro line was introduced.
MacBook Pro Line
When the laptops made the switch to Intel rather than PowerPC the name also changed. Apple ditched the name PowerBook, and named their professional-grade laptops MacBook Pros.
Original MacBook Pro – January 2006
There weren’t very major changes as far as appearance went when the MacBook Pro was first introduced. The name changed, the processor became an Intel (and became a good deal faster), and Apple introduced their MagSafe power supplies.
MacBook Pro Unibody – October 2008 to present
This is the current model of MacBook Pro. The laptops have seen minor increases in performance over the years, but the body has remained largely the same. It’s the popular unibody construction of the current Apple laptops, and has become the standard for the company’s notebooks.
The iBook Line
Apple’s iBook line was introduced as a more consumer-friendly cost-effective line of computers.
iBook G3 (Clamshell) – July 1999
Yet another popular design by Apple. This laptop was the first in Apple’s more consumer-friendly approach to computing. The curvy, colorful design attracted several users. It was definitely a fun, friendly design. Even if just aimed at non-professional computer users.
iBook G3 (Dual USB) – May 2001
This colorscheme would be used for future consumer-grade Apple Notebooks. It was a simple white plastic casing. This particular model had the transparent finish, which would later be abandoned. Still, the simple white design has stuck since.
iBook G4 – October 2003
The keys were greatly improved on this model. Anyone who remembers the iBook G3 (Dual USB) knows that the laptop had a pretty funky keyboard. It was a strange design molded from a single piece of plastic…or at least it felt that way. It was pretty tough to describe, but it didn’t feel right. This was a vast improvement over its predecessor.
Then was the jump to Intel. Like the PowerBook line, the iBooks took on a new name. They became MacBooks. Let’s take a look at those.
Original MacBook – May 2006
This computer came in both white and black. The particular model shown above was an interesting design choice for Apple, because it was the only laptop they had released in black since the PowerBook G3 almost ten years before. When the MacBooks were updated, the black plastic design was also dropped.
Aluminum Unibody MacBook – October 2008
This laptop was very short-lived, in a sense. It was the unibody aluminum MacBook. It took the best of the MacBook Pro (metal casing) and the best of the MacBook (more consumer-friendly cost) and put them together to make this laptop. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long as it was later rebranded as the new, base-line MacBook Pro. The bright side is that this smaller model kept the pricing while picking up the Pro name.
Plastic Unibody MacBook – October 2009
Having personally skipped a few generations (PowerBook G4 up until this model) there was a lot I hadn’t seen in the evolution of Apple’s notebooks. This is the model that currently sits on my desk, and it’s a pretty nice little computer. In fact, we like the design and price a bit better than we do the introductory-level MacBook Pro. Works well enough for anything we do with the computer.
MacBook Air Line
MacBook Air – January 2008
Apple introduced the MacBook Air in January 2008. The laptop was extremely thin, but users were still reluctant to say goodbye to the optical drive. That, combined with the asking price and slower speeds made it a very undesirable computer (and issues that would plague it later). Yes, it was slim, but that alone wasn’t enough to entice most users.
MacBook Air (Current Model) – October 2010
This is a sweet little computer. It’s everything that the original was hoping to be and more. The price was greatly reduced, with the introductory model setting users back $999, which is about as much as the current MacBook, and it made huge improvements over the original by adding a solid state drive (SSD) as standard and slimming down even further. Some criticize the weak storage capabilities of the computer, but it makes for a very nice travel companion.
The Future of Apple Notebooks
When introducing some of the new features of the current-generation MacBook Air, Steve Jobs said something that struck us as interesting. He noted that the company thinks that one day all notebooks will be like this. By “this” he meant the instant on, no optical drive and the inclusion of SSD. We also figure he was talking about the portability, which as many know is the reason many of us buy laptops. We like portable systems that aren’t a hassle to carry around.
While he didn’t say much beyond that, it’s maybe a hint as to where portable computers will go from here. At least on Apple’s end.