Earlier this week we reported on a rumour about a new "secret" manufacturing technology by Apple. Supposedly code-named "brick", this "revolutionary" process would carve a MacBook shell out of a single block of aluminium. Business Week echoed the unconfirmed information, quoting the usual analysts and citing an Apple patent, implying that the rumour may be true. Today, Engadget published an alleged spy-shot claiming that it looks like a "fancy new MacBook Pro carved out of a single piece of metal." But does it? And does the Apple patent prove anything about this fabled process?
Here's the photo that Engadget thinks is the MacBook Pro made out of a single piece of metal, passed through a Shadows & Highlights and the Levels tool in Photoshop:
Clearly, there's a seam between the top plate and the side plate. Maybe you can argue that the seam is a design feature, but then why bother going with a process that is designed to eliminate seams? A process that, according to the analysts quoted by Business Week, is "very time-intensive" and "expensive"? The original rumour even points out to a completely new factory, which seems to me suicidal in the middle of a recession. On the other side, the seam may be an effect of the plastic that is on top of the cover, and the top of the laptop may indeed be carved out of a single piece of aluminum.
But even if we assume that it is a piece of plastic on top, there are other things to consider in this story. Business Week argues that the manufacturing technology will allow for a completely new look in the MacBook family. Indeed, when I first heard about the rumour I imagined a wild new shape. Something completely rounded—like the iPhone—in which the componentes would magically slide in and out.
However, the case we are seeing above, while elegant and simple, is not that radically different from what we are seeing now in the MacBook Air or current MacBooks Pro. Instead of having a three-dimensional shape holding the components and ports, with a flat lid on top, this image seems to be precisely the contrary, while basically keeping the same look.
This is a perfectly valid option and we are not saying that the image above is not the real McCoy. We are saying that the stories, the "brick" rumour, the "radically" different MacBooks Pros, and the image above seem to be not compatible with each other. That's why one of them has to be false or, at least, divergent from what we have been told so far.
Then, there's a final element in all this: US Patent 7310872, which Business Week quotes in the article as an indication that Apple may be working in this method. However, far from describing the process the brick rumour is referring to, it describes a unique welding process.
A computing device having an improved enclosure arrangement is disclosed. One aspect of the enclosure pertains to enclosure parts that are structurally bonded together to form a singular composite structure. In one embodiment, structural glue is used to bond at least two unique parts together. Another aspect of the enclosure pertains to enclosure parts that are electrically bonded together to form a singular integrated conductive member. In one embodiment, conductive paste is used to bond at least two unique parts together. The improved enclosure is particularly useful in portable computing devices such as laptop computers.
As you can read in the summary and the illustrations in the gallery, this laptop building technique is all about welding and not about carving. According to the description, the new welding method will result in a strong single composite structure. It won't avoid the seams and screws, but it will reduce them. It will also increase the strength of the whole case and avoid the excessive costs of developing the completely new secret factory that the Business Week article speculates about.
This welding technique seems like a progressive step, one that will provide a better product to consumers without spending too much money in completely revamped manufacturing during a time of recession. This seems more logical and affordable for a company traditionally obsessed with product margins and keeping costs down. It makes sense.
On the other side, all of it could be true. Maybe the image is real, that's a plastic on top, and the top of the new MacBook is carved out of a single block of aluminium, despite the extra cost. And maybe the new welding technology will serve to put the resulting surfaces together.
Whatever the case is, always remember our first rule of rumours: Never believe them. Especially the ones about Apple.