Apple Should Take a Page Out of Sony's 'book

by Joe Leo, Columnist October 6, 2006

OPINION: (10.6.06)-- Walking into CompUSA the other night to get a new hard drive, one couldn't help but notice a small PC laptop on display. Why was it such a standout among all the other dull machines? Because of it's size-- it was so small! It warranted a brief looking over (stress on brief) which left this 12" PowerBook user feeling just a little (stress on little) jealous. But it also got one pondering...

Normally, this columnist would never have given a PC laptop a second look, much less a first look. There was truly something [Ugh!], nice about it, but the buck stopped at its size factor... the only factor causing it to be noticed in the first place.

With Apple rumored to be bringing back the "ultra-portable" laptop line sometime early next year (see related article on this site), and competitor Sony purportedly having directly copied the design of the MacBook into their newest laptop model, it brings up an interesting proposition. Maybe Apple can forgo suing their battery supplier-- never mind the faulty batteries --for stealing their MacBook design if Sony allows them to copy one of theirs?

The laptop in question is Sony's new VAIO N10 line, and mysteriously enough, there are no press releases which mention the new laptop here in the U.S. Currently, news regarding their new model resides in the U.K. If Sony did this on purpose so that people wouldn't notice its resemblance to the MacBook, they were sorely misguided, forgetting that news travels fast on the internet.

In reports from two outside sources, they state that Sony decided to innovate by taking a page directly out of Apple's book, or should we say, MacBook, when they designed their VAIO N10 laptop. Since it was released after the MacBook debuted, one can only infer that this is exactly what took place. And when you take a look at the actual laptop, your eyes will be judge, jury, and executioner.

Now back to the idea which sparked this article in the first place. The PC laptop that caught our attention was the Sony VAIO TX750P/B Notebook (hey, there's another thing Sony infringed upon... "P/B," like PowerBook!). If Sony can design a laptop that's even more "ultra-compact" than Apple's own "ultra-compact" 12-inch PowerBook G4, why can't Cupertino do the same? Sony's P/B is small, but it doesn't skimp on features!

While its screen is only 11 inches (almost easily confused as a mini portable DVD player), it still has a standard optical drive, 2.5" hard drive, and a standard architecture underneath with its 1.2 GHz Intel Centrino to boot. The keyboard seems to be almost full-sized, but has definitely been scaled down in order to make the laptop very small. And they did it all without a flash-based architecture. So how does Apple, uh, fit into all of this? If Sony can do it, then surely they can.

Though we will point out that it must have cost Sony a pretty penny to pack all that punch into a small package. (Suddenly, the image of a bunch of clowns exiting a small Volkswagen buggy comes to mind... talk about a circus! We're waiting to see the "circus" that results if Apple does sue). The darn thing retails for $2099.99 at CompUSA and we hardly doubt that Mac folks would pony up that kind of cash for an Apple machine similar to Sony's P/B, no matter how small it is.

To date, the smallest laptop that Apple has produced is the 12" iBook and PowerBook. They got rid of these models in favor of the 13-inch MacBook that replaced it. With Intel's new/upcoming "Santa Rosa" architecture utilizing flash-based memory, analysts predict that it's only a matter of time before laptops begin using flash memory to replace hard drives-- in turn, allowing laptops to adopt a smaller form factor than is currently available.

And Apple's close ties to Intel leads analysts to believe that the Mac maker will be the first to use this innovation-- after all, Apple is the leader in innovation when it comes to the marriage of tech and design, and it wouldn't be surprising, nor that far off, to find them doing exactly that.

To give our favorite computer company the benefit of the doubt, let's remember that Apple and Intel used to be on opposite sides of the fence, so there would have been no way for an Intel Centrino architecture to wind up underneath the hood of an iBook or PowerBook. (And maybe there was no way to make a G3, G4, or much less, a G5 processor fit into a form factor less than 12 inches. But that's purely speculation here, and no time right now to research those facts).

It does bring up an interesting point however, and with a growing user base longing for the return of the "ultra-portable/compact" Apple laptop, maybe we don't have to wait for Cupertino to move to Santa Rosa. All they have to do is use the same strategy their competitors do-- and as hard as they try to "dupe"-licate Apple's techniques/innovations each year, they never succeed. It's time for Apple to turn some heads and take a page from someone else's book for a change.

And that idea couldn't have come a moment too "Zune" (soon). [Wink, wink!]

SOURCES:, "Sony copies Apple Macbook..." (9.20.06), "Sony rips off MacBook design" (9.21.06)