HP, Dell offer 3G in laptops, so why not Apple?

Apple aluminum MacBooks are definitely cool--until you want built-in 3G connectivity.

Apple aluminum MacBooks are definitely cool--until you want 3G in a laptop. Then they're not.

It's 2010 and still no MacBook Air with 3G
It's 2010 and still no MacBook Air with 3G. Apple

I've said this before . But I'll say it again. There are consumers--including those potentially opting for laptops from Hewlett-Packard or Dell--who would like to buy a MacBook with 3G built in. Let's hope Apple sees the light with the expected upgrade to the MacBook Pro line .

Yes, there are ways to bootstrap a MacBook to get 3G. I've done tethering with my BlackBerry Storm. And then there's Verizon's tiny MiFi portable hotspot--which I use now.

But it would be nice if Apple offered one laptop in its MacBook lineup with a built-in 3G option. Like Wi-Fi and Ethernet, 3G should be part of the standard connectivity mix on a laptop.

And it wouldn't have to be an AT&T-only deal, like the iPhone. HP offers, across its consumer and business laptop lines, the Qualcomm Gobi 3G modem, which works on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint networks. Dell, too, offers plenty of 3G options on its notebooks, including an AT&T wireless option on its new ultrathin Vostro v13 laptop.

And visit a Verizon or AT&T store and you'll see a growing collection of Netbooks (including a couple from HP), all with built-in 3G.

Those very big PC and carrier companies offer 3G because customers demand it. I don't see Apple meeting this market need. HP ad copy is accurate when it states that "mobile broadband is typically more protected than Wi-Fi hotspots...Because of its popularity, most HP laptops now offer a built-in HP mobile broadband card or it can be added as an option."

It's--let me put it gently--strange that in 2010 when everyone is using an iPhone 3GS that Apple doesn't offer the MacBook Air (which I use everyday) with a 3G option. After all, the Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro are both take-with-you-anywhere laptops that cry out for 3G.

Let me repeat: yes, technically inclined consumers can go with tethering or a mobile hotspot. But--and I don't think I'm going out on a limb here--more than a few consumers would prefer it built into the laptop.

A couple of additional thoughts. Though the credit card-size MIFi portable hotspot is definitely handy, in my experience it's not as reliable as a 3G card attached to a laptop's antenna. (Whether it's related to a hiccup in the MiFI's Wi-Fi network or the MiFi's occasional inability to pick up a 3G signal, I don't know.) I've used an HP ultraportable laptop with a built-in 3G modem and it was rock-solid reliable.

Also, it's nice to have as an option. Let's say you don't have a portable 3G modem or don't do tethering but are caught somewhere without a Wi-Fi connection. Verizon offers 3G day passes that allow you to connect quickly. Though it's pricey at $15 for 24 hours, it's there if you need it. And, in the past, before I signed up for MiFi, I needed it desperately a few times.

Oh, and one more thing. It would be unthinkable to write about Apple without mentioning the rumored Apple tablet--since it is expected to have 3G. Maybe Apple is waiting to wow consumers with 3G/4G on the tablet and then follow with laptops later. But it's been a long, long wait.

When contacted about MacBooks and 3G, Apple would not comment.

Note: Why 3G in a laptop? Not all Wi-Fi hotspots are created equal (and, to state the obvious, they simply don't exist in many areas). Here's just one recent example, though I could give many more. I recently drove from Southern California to Las Vegas to attend the Consumer Electronics Show. After I left the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Wi-Fi hotspots were few and far between. The point? If you're a businessperson and need reliable connectivity on the road, 3G delivers. And at CES I used 3G constantly. The hotel Wi-Fi was often slower than my Verizon 3G connection and getting Wi-Fi on the show floor was impossible. In short, 3G was a godsend at CES.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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