Earlier this week it was reported that an upcoming MacBook Pro refresh would bring a thinner design, Touch ID support, and an OLED touch bar above the keyboard. One of the longstanding requests by MacBook users, however, has been an option for cellular connectivity and now it looks like we might be one step closer to that coming to fruition. As noted by PatentlyApple, Apple has recently been granted a patent for a MacBook with cellular connectivity.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard whispers that Apple is working on MacBook with cellular connectivity. In 2011, a MacBook Pro with 3G connectivity and a SIM card slot from 2007 was put up for auction on eBay with the seller claiming it was an unreleased prototype model, but is it still possible that Apple is considering finally adding the feature?
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Specifically the patent granted to Apple this week is for an “electronic device with dual clutch barrel cavity antennas” and the diagram submitted by Apple with the patent request depicts a MacBook. Apple noted in its filing that wireless connectivity circuit could be included in an “electronic device” such as the one shown in the diagram.
Steve Jobs was always against introducing a cellular MacBook as he believed it would add another layer of complexity to the laptop buying process. Jobs admitted in 2008 that Apple had “considered” it, but ultimately decided against doing so as it locked users into a carrier. Since 2008, however, a lot has changed in this area. Especially with the recent launch of Apple SIM with the iPad lineup.
Apple introduced Apple SIM with the iPad a while back and gives users the option to use a range of carriers at home and overseas without having to swap out SIM cards. When you buy a cellular iPad now, you’re able to choose your preferred carrier during the iOS set up process, and unless you choose AT&T, you’re free to switch carriers at any point. This same logic could easily apply to a cellular MacBook Pro.
This is notable for a couple of reasons. One, it wouldn’t complicate Apple’s already complex MacBook lineup anymore except for one additional cellular model for each build. There wouldn’t have to be a cellular models specific to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. One model could carry support for all of those carriers with Apple SIM.
Additionally, it takes away one of the main reasons Steve Jobs was against releasing a cellular MacBook. Admittedly we’re living in a post-Jobs Apple now, but his opinion on something like that is likely still well-known within the company.
Antenna and connectivity hardware has also dramatically improved. Above is an image of the prototype 2007 MacBook Pro that surfaced at eBay. Notice that massive antenna? There’s no way Steve Jobs ever would have released a computer with that sticking out the top. In 2016, however, something like that isn’t necessary. As noted by this week’s patent, the cellular antennas can be embedded within the MacBook itself, not compromising the clean and sleek design that we’ve come to love.
One thing to consider, however, is the advancement of hotspot support with iOS. It’s now far easier than it once was to share the data connection from your iPhone to your MacBook or iPad and I’m willing to bet that this is having an effect on cellular iPad sales (although lots of things are affecting iPad sales in general).
Apple’s willingness to finally adopt hotspot support in iOS after years of fighting third-party apps that sneakily enabled is perhaps an indication that the need for LTE within the actual MacBook is decreasing. With that said, however, Apple hasn’t shown any indication that it plans to discontinue cellular iPads, though, and it’s just as easy to connect an iPad to an iPhone hotspot as it is a Mac.
With cellular data connectivity, of course, comes a pair of new costs for the user. First off, a cellular MacBook Pro would cost more from a hardware perspective, just like with the iPad. With the iPad lineup, Apple charges a $129 premium for the cellular models. While it’s anyone’s guess as to the premium an LTE MacBook would carry, that $129 number seems likely.
This is interesting, though. There’s a different psychology associated with spending $129 as an upgrade when buying a MacBook that costs upwards of $1600 than when buying a $500 iPad. MacBooks also generally are upgraded less often by users than iPads, so I bet Apple would sell more LTE MacBooks purely because users see it as long-term investment.
Data connectivity isn’t free, either, so you’d have to pay your carrier of choice monthly for that. I can add another device to my AT&T family plan for $10 per month, so that’s not a huge deal. But you also have to consider that browsing the web on a laptop consumes more data than browsing on an iPhone/iPad as you’re loading full, image-rich websites instead of mobile/tablet optimized ones. Nevertheless, there’s an added monthly cost and added data use.
Ultimately, however, if it doesn’t happen this year, I don’t see it happening at all. WiFi is only going to become more prolific over the next year and hotspot connectivity is already at a place where it’s just as easy as connecting to WiFi or LTE and doesn’t generally cost anymore. We know that Apple is planning the biggest MacBook Pro refresh we’ve seen in years for the fourth quarter of this year, and if LTE isn’t included in it, then I don’t think we’ll ever see it.
Personally, I would love an LTE connected MacBook Pro. With a thin and light design, Touch ID, and LTE, the MacBook Pro would become a true work powerhouse. I’ve personally been hoping for a cellular MacBook for years now, and the possibility of it finally coming excites me. I’d be more than willing to pay a slight hardware and carrier premium for it and I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
What do you think? Would you spend a little more for an LTE enabled MacBook Pro? Let us know in the poll below and back up your choice in the comments.
Bottom image via LinkedIn