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Why don't MacBooks come with cellular networking? (marco.org)
55 points by shawndumas 1692 days ago | hide | past | web | 65 comments | favorite

And this is an area that Windows wins at. In Windows 8 on my tablet, it shows a Mobile Broadband connection. All the Windows Update, Outlook application, etc are aware of this - Outlook says "You may be on a metered connection" and prompts for desired behavior.

On my laptop, I can even flag a given Wireless (or indeed any) connection as metered and get the same result.

The mobile broadband and metered connection experiences are details with screenshots in this blog post:


Windows 8 also has a nice API for it so that apps are aware of it and can prompt for big downloads or disable automatic syncing.


I think it makes sense that Apple is not very interested in making new features for OS X. They make only a tiny fraction of their profits from it and Mac sales have been down close to 20% from last year. To use Jobs' post-PC analogy, Why invest in making better trucks if you think the world is moving towards cars?

Meanwhile, Windows is Microsoft's bread and butter.

I'd argue that Office is Microsoft's bread and butter. Check the Operating Income figures from the last quarter -- $3.565B for Office compared to $3.296B for Windows:


If people switch to Chromebooks or iPads, Office revenue will also suffer along with Windows.

They are trying to get into the mobile game:


However, these are strictly inferior to the desktop versions (for example, web Excel doesn't support array formulae)

Yet, they produced the Macbook Air, when they were actively working on the iPad, and the world was moving towards mobile. Also your argument that Apple is not very interested in making features for OS X falls when they announced last year that they will move the yearly release cycles.

The Air is arguably a push in the mobile direction.

To start, Apple could just put cellular-connection detection and repsonsible-usage logic into iTunes and Software Update.

… and Xcode documentation downloader, and PhotoStream sharing in iPhoto, and TimeMachine if I have a VPN running, and Mail because sometimes it decides to redownload every email I've ever received on GMail…

I don't think a sloppy solution is going to cut it when you are talking hundred and thousand dollar ambush fees from the telcos.

I hate it when you are stuck using a MiFi instead, because then it really isn't clear to your Mac that it's on an expensive network, and stuff like backups, iTunes downloads, etc. continue running in the background. There really needs to be some way to communicate cost to the OS (maybe configurable as profiles) for various networks.

Assuming the OS does/does not do this in the future, it would be great if applications that are data intensive considered this in the interim.

Apps like Backblaze, Dropbox, Spotify etc. should be "aware" of the type of network they are operating on and the user able to specify the desired behavior such as only sync files smaller than x, don't do anything on this network etc.

The only way I could think of doing it is having a profile manager which ran separately and killed or changed settings of various specific programs based on the network you're on. I remember there being such things under XP, and bundled with various PC-Card cellular adapters, but it never working very well.

Apps could do a reverse DNS lookup on your public IP address and then use that to determine if you're on a wireless carrier's network. Though they'd have to hardcode some list of TLDs that correspond to wireless carriers, but it'd be one possible solution to get around the fact that to the computer it just looks like wifi.

Is Marco Polo still around? That's how i used to do SSID aware settings to change all of my mail settings to use ssh tunneled SMTP while at work and switching back again at home.

It's not like it's never occurred to them. In fact, Apple had a 3G MacBook Pro prototype a few years ago that someone snapped up on Craigslist: http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20099494-248/apple-wants-i...

A magnetically attached antenna is an interesting choice. I feel like I'd lose mine within a few days if it went to production like that.

I always thought the space bar would provide an adequate window.

Sure would make a great feature for a Mac OS X release named Lynx, right? Just saying.

I tether my MacBook to my iPhone often and it would be a tough sell. ~$150 more on hardware plus another data plan? Even with data plan sharing its too much. You could say the same about the cellular iPad but the way these devices are used is just a lot different. Most of the MacBooks are just too big to use this way. You have to stop somewhere, take it out of a bag and sit it down. At that point is turning on tethering, activating a wifi cellular AP, or even plugging in a USB modem all that much of an extra burden? It's already not so practical. The iPad though can be carried outside of a bag and used standing or even walking. I would at least consider the cellular iPad but so far have not opted to get one for some of the same reasons. Turning on tethering isn't very hard and it works great. Both the iPad and MacBook are distant seconds for me in cellular data usage and would continue to be even with integrated cellular. The iPhone just covers my needs for that stuff. So my guess is Apple hasn't done it because there's just not a big enough market. I would be surprised if even 10% of MacBook owners use cellular data and of that 10% a lot are probably like me and content using tethering. That leaves a tiny fraction of a fraction to sell a cellular MacBook too. For Apple that's maybe even too niche.

Usually my phone is plugged into my Macbook for power, and my Macbook is using my phone for Internet (rooted android wifi tether). The word symbiosis always comes to mind.

Based on their sales history with iPads, it doesn't make sense. Dropping in a modem also requires a lot of engineering from software drivers to the custom hardware to the compliance testing with any carrier network the device would be operating on. Apple has made the right choices in the past by focusing on the important problems. Unfortunately, carrier pricing makes the demand for LTE on all our devices weaker and the challenge not worth it.


"OS X isn’t designed to behave differently while on different types of networks"

Funny. This was exactly one of the justifications for writing launchd. "daemons" would be signaled on state change, like a network state transition. This behavior would isolate applications/developers from explicit dependency management.

Also, mobile radio prototypes are built all the time. And as noted a lot of hardware ends up on ebay/craigslist. Ironically that's all dvt hardware, not actual proto builds.

With as small as Apple is pushing their newest MacBooks, I doubt they have the real estate on the logic board for the chip, not to mention the associated antenna in the case.

Anyone that needs cellular networking (and can't find wifi) probably can tether their iDevice or has a USB stick (I assume there are Mac compatible ones).

It would be nice though to have an API that helps differentiate network classes to stop thing like Dropbox from syncing over cellular.

They should at least launch an OS with first-class support for iPhone tethering.

What do you mean? On 10.8, I plug my iPhone in and it "just works".

Do whatever, just push 4G dataplans to bigger caps, I would drop cable for that.

What about all the countries that have reasonable data plan pricing? In some African countries cellular data is actually quite often the only thing resembling broadband because wired endpoints are just way too expensive.

I am not exaggerating when I say that north Americans are probably paying 2-3 times more than they ought to.

My experience is that, if you're in a place where you want to work on a laptop, that place will probably have wifi. Sure, in the park, on the street, your chances are lower -- but that's where you'd be pulling out your phone or tablet instead of your laptop.

Most places where there's WiFi, speed is terrible. I always end up tethering to my phone. Heck, LTE ends up being faster than my home connection. (Obviously used judiciously given the small dataplans you can get)

You take laptops to where wi-fi is. I'd rather go to Balboa Park or the Black Mountain Preserve.

Are you coding from these places?

Well, coding is a hobby for me, (GP physician by trade), so yes, I catch where catch can. At the park while my kids play is a common use case.

I can't say I care much about having cellular networking in my MacBook but what I want to know is why they're still being sold with internal DVD drives and no hybrid SSD/HDD drive combination. Apple doesn't sell a laptop with a SSD large enough to fit my photos/video clips so my only option is a relatively slow HDD. They should be offering the best of both worlds by providing a combination of the two. Other PC manufacturers are doing this but not Apple. Somehow Apple seems to be fixated on display and battery technology and is failing to address storage issues and appear to be just waiting for SSD prices to fall. All I can say is it's not happening quickly enough...

They at least considered it at some point: http://www.macrumors.com/2011/08/14/photos-of-a-prototype-ma...

Is this becoming a common need for people? I just bought a Chromebook the other day and adding cellular network support wasn't much more, but I opted against it. I find if I'm on a laptop then wifi is pretty much always available.

I tether my macbook almost every weekday while commuting 45 minutes by train. It also comes in handy at places where the wifi isn't free like some airports or coffee shops for instance. Also the 4G speed where I life is just as fast as DSL (only option in my building), so if there weren't bandwidth caps I would gladly ditch DSL and go with 4G all the time.

The one significant use case I'd have is we're on a long road trip and my wife is driving the car. But it's not such a significant case for me that I've ever actually spent $10 a month to turn my phone's tethering on.

For those with a few hours of commute daily, it's a no-brainer.

Almost everyone who is rich enough to own a high-end MacBook also owns a fast phone with a data plan, which can be used for tethering. How many cellular radios do I need to carry with me at once, anyway?

Note that this is in contrast to the iPad, where the owner cannot be presumed to have a fast phone data plan, simply because they may be too poor to own both an iPad and a fancy iPhone.

My brother and I started a bet on this in November 2011. At that time, I'd already had a Cr-48 with 3G for a year. As of Superbowl 46, someone everyone here would recognize thought that Apple would roll out cellular in what proved to be the retina MacBooks. The bet comes due in April 2013. So far, I'm still losing. Anyone got a Campagnolo chain they want to send me? :-)

My recent trip to Bestbuy convinced me that the future of computer lies in touch screen devices both mobile and desktop. No wonder Windows 8, Gnome, Unity, etc. are so eager to grab the touch screen market. Like several of the other Apple products, there is a strong resistance in Apple to accept new realities that originate in non-Apple camps.

Why don't people use an USB data dongle instead of tethering their phones? Data only plans are cheaper and having it on an USB makes it portable across multiple devices. There are cellular data devices which act as mini-wifi radios as well. That frees up the USB slot and allows multiple devices to simultaneously share the same connection.

most argue here, OSX hinders that, as it disregards metered connecions and overuses that with e,g. background updates and so forth.

I couldn't live without 3G at my eeepc

As an alternative solution carriers could collectively remove their heads from their asses on bandwidth fees and rate plans.

Do you have a different broadband conenction for your xbox and your pc? No, you have one for the house and then share it. Likewise you only need one portable network connection (your cell phone) and all your other devices share it. If you own and cell phone and have data enabled devices (tablet, laptop etc) you're doing it wrong.

In a few years, I speculate that 99% of people using macbooks will find themselves in areas with some sort of wifi access, and if that's not acceptable I find Clearwire's service to be excellent in the NYC metro area. The cellular networking would not have the same impact that it would have had 3 or 5 years ago.

I think people have been saying exactly this for over a decade.

Panera introduced free wifi in 2005. Starbucks introduced free wifi in 2010. Nowadays pretty much every coffeeshop IN THE US offers free wifi. There's demonstrable progress and the pace is picking up.

EDIT: added clarification that I was referring to the US.

There's progress, but we're a very, very long way from ubiquitous WiFi. With more and more users moving towards cellular usage anyways (tablets and phones), and away from laptops, the pressure to get WiFi everywhere is slackening.

When I was visiting family in Vancouver over Xmas - a modern, large city by any measure - I had no data plan (I'm US-based), and for the first time in a long time found myself looking for WiFi everywhere I went. Let's just say that the availability of WiFi in public spaces is still very limited.

"... Vancouver ..."

I intended to make the claim for the United States, forgetting that not everyone here is based in the US :/ Updated parent reply to reflect that I intended to mean United States.

I've lived in Seattle, SF, and NYC, and the same can be said for all of them. WiFi is not at all ubiquitous. There are destinations with reliable(ish) WiFi, but it is a ludicrously long way from having something handy wherever you might decide to plop your butt down for a few minutes.

And it's not getting better - not when connectivity has been moving heavily towards cellular rather than WiFi. The pressure for coffee shops, restaurants, and public spaces to get WiFi was largely fueled by an explosion in laptop usage - that usage has, and continues to, rapidly disappear into phones.

FYI, Vancouver is pretty like any American city. Speaks English, has tall buildings, has a subway system, has running water, and a conspicuous absence of igloos ;) Please don't take "not in the US" to mean "underdeveloped".

Officially Starbucks has free WiFi, but in my experience it's down more often than it's up. I don't do much travelling, so this is very Toronto centric, but most free WiFi just doesn't work.

"... this is very Toronto centric ..."

American here. Forgot that not everyone is based in the US, heh. Updated parent

And yet where I am now has no public WiFi. It has a strong LTE signal. Guess which is more useful to me?

I intended to focus on the US, and I didn't mean to suggest 100% coverage (which is why I said 99%)

I'm in the US. In a large metro area even. I find myself using the iPad for its LTE connection very often.

If you could buy a MacBook with cellular service you wouldn't need to buy an iPhone.

Uhhh.... why?

Laptops and phones have totally different use cases.

You could make a much better argument saying that an iPad with cellular means you wouldn't need an iPhone.

That still wouldn't be right. My huge iPad doesn't fit in my pocket. And I will feel silly holding said huge iPad to my face when I want to make a call.

I actually use an iPad mini with LTE as my only mobile device. I make phone calls on it (when needed) and everything.

I've always said my perfect laptop is an 11" macbook air + retina display + integrated LTE. My understanding is that the LTE thing happens because the networks aren't ready for it...

Lenovo offers several notebooks with integrated LTE modems that are just as portable as the MacbookAir.


Their plan is to transition people to cellular enabled devices rather than transitioning non-cellular devices to cellular devices.

Net result: Apple gains clout with cellular carriers, end user privacy suffers.

Having OS X be cellular-plan aware would still be nice, if you happen to tether your MacBook to your iPhone.

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