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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.