New Chips Are Nice, But How About Some New Cases, Apple?

by Chris Seibold Feb 01, 2007

The chip revisions are getting harder to keep up with at Apple town; the Mac mini uses a Core 2 Duo (or some such) as do the iMac and MacBook Pro. Meanwhile the Mac Pro is chugging away with Dual Xeons and will, most industry watchers say, show up with octocore configuration sooner rather than later. Surely, Otto Gunther Octavius is saving some cash up for just such a purchase.

Of course, remembering all the configurations and recalling the earlier Intel iterations is a bit mind numbing. The mini went from G4 to Core Solo, to Core Duo, to Core 2 Duo with nary a case polish. The PowerBook went from PowerBook G4, to MacBook Pro Core Duo to Core 2 Duo and kept the familiar aluminum clad form factor. The PowerMac went from the once super-hyped G5 (64 bit!) to the Dual Core Xeon while changing a solitary port on the front.

Life in Macland wasn’t always this way. In the era since Steve Jobs’ return, you could tell which processor family was powering the machine just by looking. Well, unless you were looking at an iBook, as that particular machine was upgraded to the G4 without major cosmetic changes. The iBook was the exception that proved the rule; all the other machines featured a major cosmetic change when the processor that powered the machine changed the number following the letter “G.”

To illustrate the former status quo: When the iMac went from G3 powered consumer computer to a G4 powered miracle of design, not only the processor changed, but the machine went flat panel for the monitor and Apple got the monitor to seemingly float in mid air. When the PowerMac went from G4 for professional use to the world’s fastest PC powered by the G5, the case transformed from an easily accessible plastic tower of reasonable size to a hand cutting aluminum tower that would have depleted entire mines if the machine had proved to be more popular.

With the transition to Intel, Apple rethought the practice of completely revamping case designs to announce processor newness and, apparently, decided a model name change would be enough to let the world know. So, instead of a shockingly cool carbon fiber shell, the PowerBooks retained the look and became the irritatingly named MacBook Pros. The name changes are familiar if one reflects for a moment, but the dissonant names are listed here for the sake of completeness: iBook begat MacBook, PowerMac begat MacPro, and, most dishearteningly, the PowerBook morphed to MacBook Pro. The Mac mini and the iMac emerged from the transition with new processors but managed to avoid clucky name changes (inside info: the Mac mini was almost renamed “Mac minisemipro”).

All of which is great for computing power (or will be when universal versions of apps like Photoshop and Office make the scene) but bad for satisfying that new case urge so many Mac fans secretly have. Sure, the case doesn’t affect the performance of the computer in day-to-day use, but Apple has always been very proud of the company’s aesthetic accomplishments. The way things are currently trending, Apple will have completely forgotten how to design a stunning case by the time the company gets around to trying again. One hopes that some Apple designer remembers the past, but not strongly enought to declare that “Beige is the new white!”

When was the last time Apple wowed us with a new case? The PowerMac G5? Possibly; the machine is a joy to work on inside, quiet enough that ninjas are jealous, and big enough that you can heat a couple of hot pockets up inside for lunch, but in the end it is just a tower, not really a revolution. The Mac mini seems to be a likely candidate. The tiny footprint of the machine left everyone gobsmacked when they first got an eyeful. PC hackers immediately tried to cram a PC into the same space and found they had to omit such incidentals as a CD drive. Still, the mini was obviously derivative of the cube, and as much as everyone likes to think miniaturization costs a bunch of money, in the long run smaller is cheaper, so it is easy to see the mini as more of a cost compromise than a radical rethinking. The first PowerBook would definitely qualify: metal in a sea of plastic, widescreen while every other notebook shared a mundane aspect ratio, unbelievably thin and with a backlit keyboard, truly a design to remember. But the original PowerBook debuted way back in 2001, which makes it contemporaneous with Diplodocus in computer terms.

In the end, you have to think Apple’s last big computer design home run was the G5 iMac. The basic form factor had been proposed by Jonathan Ives when the iMac was getting ready for the transition to the G4 but Steve Jobs shot the idea down, saying. “Why stand a computer on its side when it really wants to be horizontal…” A few years later the all-in-one design was revived by Apple’s designer and the world was treated to the G5 iMac. The design doesn’t look dated (like the G4 iMac) so it is easy to forget that the G5 iMac was introduced in 2004, quite a while ago in terms of computing years.

Which puts the faithful farther away from a delicious computer redesign than the Boston Red Sox are from their World Series Championship (only 85 years until the next one fellas), and that is disappointing. Come on Apple, give us something new, we’re waiting.


  • You had me running to the Apple store! Mini is still on CoreDuo, not Core2Duo… It’s still 32bit… Damn it…

    xwiredtva had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 172
  • I hope the next line of iMacs stays with the computer-in-a-monitor style, because I think it’s the most convenient and stylish. I liked the old G4 with its dome hub and swivel neck, but the G5 iMac model is definitely the sleekest.

    If anything, Apple should really concentrate on making the iMac as thin as possible, whilst upping the power. I don’t suppose that can happen until we get rid of hard-drives and replace them with flash memory.

    Aaron Wright had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 104
  • I doubt that the Mini will see major redesign, and it would be a pity since so many people have aesthetically matched setups with all their external HDDs in mini-esque cases. The main issue is that in the current line of designs, there is hardly anything more to reduce, slim down, or take away. I am sure Apple will update the enclosures once it makes sense. In the case of the portables that would be once new, better materials have reached acceptable price-points, so the current designs can be surpassed. But why change when there is no need? Random changes in design just for changes sake is what brought us the iMac blue dalmatian. I think we can live with out that.

    Oh and by the way, IIRC the G4 iBook was the first to sport the opaque shell & keyboard. It looked much, much more bland than the iBook G3, it was a true visual downgrade.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Macbook was redesigned in May 2006.

    I expect the Macbook Pro will be redesigned for Leopard. Would not be surprised if the mac pro case were redesigned as well. Hopefully we see new designs at WWDC ‘07.

    Gandhi had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 1
  • What the mini is still core duo? What is this the middle ages?

    Yeah I know the iBook was redesigned but that was a pretty minor tweaking. Thouogh they added black, can it be too long before they go retro and offer the Macbook in orange and lime green?

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 354
  • I’d like to see the Mini’s go anodized colors… But not the iPod colors, or maybe… Black, chrome (polished), and maybe a red edition would be cool.

    Mac pro - NEEDS POLISHED!

    Or how about a Mac Pro Mini… A 4 core (single Xeon chip) with a 3.5” SATA drive, and 128mb/256mb (OS Selectable-firmware mod) video. All packed in a tiny Mac Pro styled case, and make it black. I’d buy that! It’s more than a Mini, less than a MacPro and let’s me use my existing screen. There’s enough Mini users out there with existing BYOKVM (whatever) that want more power in an upgrade without buying an iMac and can’t afford a Mac Pro.

    Translucent cases would kool too in the iMac line.

    You think Ives is listening…

    xwiredtva had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 172
  • Please, please no carbon fiber cases.  Aside from the fact that it’s a diposal nightmare (vs. aluminum) it’s also the material of choice for posers.

    tundraboy had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 132
  • Actually i love that they keep the design. It gives you the feeling of a sustainable Mac. You never feel you have an old computer. It is like with the BMW Mini. The never changed the design of the car, because it is already almost perfect.

    gstangl had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 1
  • The only problem with a ‘timeless’ design is that you risk running into the Jaguar XJ problem:

    Everybody says the car’s design is timeless:  Jaguar should keep it the way it is.  It is an icon.  Just update the technology.

    Nobody wants to buy the car though.

    tundraboy had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 132
  • When was the last time Apple wowed us with a new case? The PowerMac G5? Possibly…

    I think these fellas:


    are still HOT! (figuratively and literally) wink. That MacBook Core Duo there is still fine for me - really nice with the fingers.

    For the Mac towers, I admit the current Al design is due for a classy refinement for Core Quad intro at this WWDC. My wish is to make them lighter. The Al cases are damn too heavy.

    Robomac had this to say on Feb 01, 2007 Posts: 846
  • But why change when there is no need?

    In terms of both the Mac mini and the iMac, I’m inclined to agree, although to say there is no need to change is to say that the designs are perfect.  And I don’t think there’s any such thing.

    The Mac Pro case, on the other hand, has PLENTY of room for improvement.  It looks like a prop from the set of Robocop, circa 1985.  And it weighs 5 thousand gajillion pounds.  I’m no techie but I’d say it’s because the metal case is made from adamantium or some other similar alloy.  I must admit, though, that the inside of the case is simply a marvel of design.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Feb 02, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • It’s also fantastically energy expensive to produce, has strong ties to the arms trade and the bauxite mining industry has commited on several continents what leading anthropologists consider a form of genocide.

    Not that greenpeace aren’t liars. The Roughly Drafted article on them is damning.

    Benji had this to say on Feb 05, 2007 Posts: 927
  • (I work for a company with links to the bauxite industry.)

    Benji had this to say on Feb 05, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I work for a company with links to the bauxite industry.

    Hmmm…interesting. I do agree the RDM article re: GP is quite an scorcher. What a bunch of hypocrites. GP says Apple fills dumps with mercury while HP is a “green” abiding monster. What a bunch of crappolas!

    Robomac had this to say on Feb 05, 2007 Posts: 846
  • I get the feeling that Apple didn’t include any case changes with the Intel transition in order to emphasize that it was the same computer in spite of the new chip.

    Matthew Mayfield had this to say on Feb 06, 2007 Posts: 2
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