When Will We See 4G MacBooks?

This week, the official dates for Apple’s annual WWDC were announced and most people who have been following Apple rumour sites have a fair idea of what exactly is going to be announced. We here at Mac.AppStorm have a strong inkling that the entire MacBook Pro line is going to be refreshed (possibly with those new Ivy Bridge processors and a high-resolution retina display) as well as the iMac range as well.

But what really got me thinking was the idea of 4G MacBooks (4G meaning cell-network-compatible). Yes, it sounds like a bit of a shot in the dark (especially as we haven’t seen 3G-enabled MacBooks so far) but it does seem like a product that would catch on given the higher transfer speeds of 4G and its suitability to more intense web browsing such as video conferencing, HD video streaming and so on.


A new design of the MacBook Air's antenna may hint at what Apple are planning for the line

Paving the Way

Apple’s foray into the mobile market has, so far, been a very good one. The iPhone is Apple’s most popular product and accounted for over 60% of total revenue in Q2 2012, according to their recently published financial results. And the new iPad, with its LTE connectivity, has also proven popular (though in many countries, such as Europe, it is incompatible with the existing 4G networks owing to the difference in frequency), so why hasn’t Apple introduced LTE-compatibility into its MacBook range?

Well, there’s no easy answer to that one but allow me to speculate for a moment. For one, there are plenty of existing options out there on the market. I am currently based in Germany (where LTE technology is still in its infancy) and you can sign up to a monthly LTE data tariff, with 10 GB of data and a USB stick for around €50 (around $65). Most mobile operators around the world will allow you to do this (whether they have LTE networks in place or not) and the stick can often be used in any (compatible) device you want.

iPhones and iPads also offer the option of tethering (as long as it is supported by your network provider, to which there is normally an additional fee), meaning you can hook your iOS device up to your MacBook and use the Internet as normal. However there are a couple of drawbacks to this method. For starters, it can be unreliable and temperamental (as I’ve learned from past experience!), and secondly, you soon eat into your monthly Internet usage, especially if you plan to undertake some pretty hardcore browsing.

The Data Problem

This leads me onto the second limitation: those evil data caps set by the mobile operators. Verizon, for example, will cap your data after you’ve reached 10 GB and many network providers have similar limits. Although this sounds like a handsome amount of data, once you start browsing the Internet you’ll soon find that those 10 GB get eroded away very quickly. There unfortunately are very few network providers that provide truly unlimited mobile Internet with no restrictions or caps after you’ve exceeded a certain amount, which does cast a dull shadow over the prospect of 4G MacBooks.

Data caps

Most network providers (such as Vodafone Germany here) cap data on LTE tariffs

Apple would also have to strike deals with many of the main network providers so they are allowed to offer a signup and activation service along with the purchase of a MacBook (like they do with the iPhone and iPad). Providers would also have to come up with a range of tariffs (maybe integrating part of the cost of a new MacBook into the monthly fee), lessening the burden on the consumer.

Fresh Air

If Apple were to introduce 4G connectivity to the MacBook range, then it is more than likely that the Air models will get it first, as these are more orientated towards commuters owing to their lighter and thinner form factor, though it is certainly possible that it could be introduced across the whole range.

However, given the redesigned MacBook Air antenna as shown above, it may be that Apple is considering the thought, though we haven’t heard any concrete chatter as of yet. The company already has great (and successful) experience of integrating mobile connectivity into existing devices and we all know that the company does have a few tricks up its sleeve (look at the Mountain Lion release, which was hardly expected).

If a 4G MacBook were to hit the shelves sometime soon, then Apple do really need to get it right this time and price it strategically to make it appeal to new (or even existing) MacBook users. At the moment it’s simply a concept, but it could be an idea that eventually becomes reality in the not-too-distant future.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the possibility of a 4G line of MacBooks. Do you think this will ever really happen or is this all wishful thinking? If so, how far down the line do you think it will be? Months? Years? Let us know in the comments below.