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The art of designing an iMac notebook

Not satisfied to leave it to Apple, fans of the company are producing possible prototype designs for the notebook equivalent of the popular iMac.

Apple's legion of followers do more than just take a passing interest in their favorite computer company.

Some moonlight as industrial designers, and their latest object of interest is Apple's forthcoming consumer portable. Not satisfied to leave it to Apple, this cottage industry is producing possible prototype designs for the notebook equivalent of the popular iMac.

The designs range from polished to crude, from impossible-to-mass-produce to highly plausible, but all exemplify a passion that's largely reserved for Apple. One would be hard-pressed to find customers of other major PC companies designing the cases of their next PC.

Apple inspires such activity because "Apple is all about doing things to the hilt. It's about really caring about every detail, like the typeface on keyboard and how the cables look," said David Kelley, president of IDEO, the design firm that came up with the look for the slim Palm V handheld, as well as many Apple computers. "People react to [Apple machines] in an extreme way" because of the attention to detail, he offered.

The designs have names such as WebMate, iBook, eBook, and P1, which either have sprung up from Apple's internal codenames for the project, or domain and trademarked names that Apple has registered.

One Web site hosts a notably large collection of links to notebook prototypes, as well as a few handheld and desktop computer designs. Among others, one fan in Japan has designed a portable that looks like an executive briefcase, complete with a handle for carrying the notebook. While the design doesn't use many themes of Apple designs, including colors or curves, a handle has been rumored to be a feature of the new notebook.

Apple eMate notebook Other would-be Apple designers have taken more cues from current or past Apple products to design their own wished-for apparatus. At another site, there is an image from a Brian Smith that appears to be a sleeker version of Apple's eMate computer that was sold to the education markets until its discontinuation in early 1998. In many respects, the eMate paved the way for Apple's later success in designs with its translucent-plastic case and curved sides, which was intended to put a friendlier face on computing for students.

Other designs have managed to look plausible for their incorporation of iMac themes. One Mac fan in Japan came up with an illustration of a "hiMac", which features the two-toned color scheme, as well as two speakers placed under the display to evoke the style of the original iMac. However, the device is shown to have a rather impractical trackpad for cursor control in the shape of Apple's logo.

Another site goes so far as to show what the different iMac colors would look like on their notebook prototype. Since Apple has already offered iMacs in five colors, why not notebooks too?

"People are a little tired of big beige boxes that they have to put on a desk or on the floor and doesn't necessarily fit in their environments," said Steve Miggels, principal of Insync Design, an industrial design firm that helps companies come up with product packaging. "To some degree, Apple has proven this out with the success of the iMac."

If the proliferation of designs is any indication, a chic portable iMac could be as big a success as the desktop version. Anticipation for Apple's consumer notebook has been building steadily since May of 1998, when interim chief executive Steve Jobs announced that the company would venture into that market.

Apple's consumer notebook is slated go into production starting in June, according to a recent report in the online edition of Nikkei Business Publications. (See related story).