The New MacBook: Apple's Stealth Enterprise Laptop

The new MacBook could make more significant inroads into the enterprise market than any Apple product, ever. It comes down to price/performance, price point, design focus, durability, suitability to task and market timing.

Many observers consider the iPhone to be Apple's Trojan horse for the enterprise market. And with good reason. Figures just out show that Apple sold more than 10 million iPhones during its first 15 months. With or without IT approval, a whole lot of Apple smart phones are being used in business.

That's why I paid close attention to the MacBook and MacBook Pro models released by Apple last month. I was surprised by the new MacBook's specs. My surprise turned to admiration a couple of days later when new MacBook arrived on my desk.

The previous-generation MacBook was thick and heavy. Its chief claim to fame was that it was Apple's least-expensive notebook and biggest seller. The sweet spot of the lineup was the $1,299 model, which had a 2.4-GHz processor, 800-MHz front-side bus, 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive.

The new $1,299 MacBook has a durable aluminum unibody case, a bright LED-backlit display, the new glass touch-interface trackpad, a 1,066-MHz front-side bus, 2GB of RAM, and integrated 256MB Nvidia video. It's also smaller than its predecessors at under an inch thick, and lighter at 4.5 lb. The processor speed for this model is back to 2 GHz. The new top-of-the-line MacBook, which sells for $1,599, has a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a 250GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM and an illuminated keyboard. Apple's price for an upgrade to 4GB of RAM is a reasonable $150.

The specs don't really tell the story, though. Consumerization is now a powerful driver in corporate adoption of end-user technology. I'm not predicting wholesale adoption of Macs by enterprises anytime soon, but the new MacBook will make more significant inroads into that market than any Apple product, probably ever. It comes down to price/performance, price point, design focus, durability, suitability to task and market timing.

To explore some of these aspects, I asked my company's senior manager of technology services, Kevin Ford, to do the math. He did a formal price comparison of the Lenovo X200 -- a model that employees of Computerworld and parent company IDG are often supplied with -- and the new 2.4-GHz MacBook. Both prices were quoted to Ford with enterprise discounts by a well-known third-party online vendor. The specs are comparable except for display size and overall weight (the X200 has a smaller screen and weighs 1.2 lb. less). The price difference was just $30, in favor of the MacBook at $1,566.70.

Your enterprise's mileage may vary. Perhaps your company prefers Dell, HP or Toshiba. I know you can find notebooks that cost considerably less. But there's a reason enterprise notebooks tend to cost around $1,500: It's the amount that gets them over the minimum for capital expenditure depreciation at many companies.

Like the old MacBook, the new one seems to be aimed primarily at the education and home markets. (When I asked to speak to an Apple exec about the market strategy for the new MacBook, the company declined to grant an interview for several weeks.) But unlike the old MacBook, the new one looks and feels like a business machine. And its most important advantage may be its blend of power and portability -- a careful balance of the primary needs of the average business user.

In September 2007, I wrote an article about why Apple's Macs didn't fully meet the needs of business, saying, "To build the small and light notebook that many corporate users crave, Apple should start with the MacBook Pro case and trim it for a 13.3-in. display. It doesn't have to be aluminum, but it does have to look upscale."

The new MacBook fully addresses my year-old criticisms. Apple finally has the right hardware and software for mainstream business users.

But will Apple ever figure out how to sell to enterprises? It's going to be interesting to find out.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld.com's editor in chief. Contact him at scot_finnie@computerworld.com.

This story, "The New MacBook: Apple's Stealth Enterprise Laptop" was originally published by Computerworld .

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