Apple plans cellular connection in laptops, finally

Originally published at: Apple plans cellular connection in laptops, finally | Boing Boing

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I hadn’t thought about this sort of connectivity for a laptop, but it seems like a real obvious feature for Apple to add considering they’ve been in the cellular game for a long time now.

It’s good to have a plan.

They could put a cell modem in the MacBook next month if it was a question of just putting a cell modem in there. A years-long development effort means they are designing a cell modem from scratch. Which is silly if you are Apple, sitting on a few trillion dollars of cash, since you can certainly afford to pay Qualcomm the IP tax until you finish that development work.


Qualcomm’s IP probably isn’t smooth enough around the edges. Or something.

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That, and Apple’s been dancing around with Qualcomm over the licensing fees and other nonsense for some time.

How about “National Security®”, that’s always good for a laugh.


Apple’s been working on developing its own modems for a while, and bought out Intel’s flailing modem division (formerly Infineon, itself formerly Siemens) to do so.

One challenge will be getting the cellular signal out of that metallic Faraday cage the MacBooks’ aluminum case effectively is, but they’ve handled that for WiFi.

If Rob’s tethered connectivity is unstable, it’s most likely due to poor cellular connectivity, and having a separate modem is unlikely to help. He should try tethering over USB (using a Lightning or USB-C cable depending on whether he has an iPhone 15 or older) to see if it makes a difference.

Frankly the last thing I need is yet another cellular contract. I have 6 already for my family of 3: one for each of us’ phones, one for my daughter’s Apple Watch, one for my iPad mini, and one for the 5G router that acts as backup Internet if our fiber Internet goes down.

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Tbf, the fact that it exists doesn’t mean you have to use it

The MacOS is designed around the idea that bandwidth is essentially free. The challenge will be adding in safeguards to keep the cell usage low. Things like “Would you like to wait until you are on wifi to download this app or movie?”

If they do this, it would benefit people who tether to their phones, often with a limited monthly data limit.

And antennas have got to take up at least as much physical space as a cell chip so I’m not buying the “no room” argument.


and now you’ll have to have two?

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Wow, I hadn’t realized that I’m a MacBook/iPhone hotspot unicorn before! That features hasn’t always “just worked”, but it has “worked like 95% of the time” for me, which I realize falls far short of Apple’s adverting slogan, but…

I honestly have no idea if I would buy it if it were an extra cost option, and I do tend to use that iPhone hotspot thing around once a month for actual work. I kind of sort of guess if it were say $130 I would go with “no”, but…then I’ll be super pissed with myself if I don’t buy it and my special unicorn “works for me” status goes away? Or what if it is $70?

Don’t they already have a cell modem in the iPhone? One where they decided they were sick of paying Qualcomm for, and they bought the part of Intel that made cell modems just so they could stop paying Qualcomm? Or did that not work out somehow?

Ohhhh! Now that I know they had once been Infineon I’m both more understanding and baffled by that purchase. The early iPhone used infineon’s modem and dealing with it was a major pain. So I can see Apple buying that division because they had been familiar with it, but at the same time I don’t see why they would ever want to touch it again after the first time around!

I’ll second this, it also means the laptop’s much larger battery is keeping the iPhone charged up.

Mostly, it got APIs for “am I using bandwidth restricted connectivity to reach a given host” a fair number of years back though, and I think you can now mark individual WiFi hotspots as “bandwidth restricted”.

Having an API is distinct from “things actually use the API” though…


Why nott just a lighter-than-air companion craft that looks like a Recognizer from TRON and is a 5G NAS and ofc fluid head mount? Hear me out, but I think they can co over the $250 mark on it.

Though also, where’s the LiFi-boosted full-back camera for the laptop (with sun shield?)

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Given the size difference between a phone and a laptop, I would find it very hard to believe that the size cell connection hardware is a limiting factor.

Now, placement of the hardware within a laptop, especially for 5G? That could take some more design and rearrangement.

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At work we’ve been exclusively buying 4g/5g capable laptops for a few years now, because it dramatically reduces support costs. No more trying to talk somebody through connecting to their phone hotspot when they’re seeing a client after driving an hour, if they’re not on wifi it falls back to cellular. The biggest issue we’ve had is with some occasional driver/hardware compatibility issues which apple is good at avoiding.

One challenge will be getting the cellular signal out of that metallic Faraday cage the MacBooks’ aluminum case effectively is, but they’ve handled that for WiFi.

Not sure how apple will do things but dell/lenovo laptops run the cellular antenna right next to the wifi antenna.

Frankly the last thing I need is yet another cellular contract.

Here all the main carriers let you add a data share sim that shares with your existing personal/family/business plan. The prices vary and are about 3 USD a month at work which includes additional data. I’m unsure how widespread this concept is.

I can see how this would work for them. total control over the hardware and software means all the issues that annoy me are gone, esim only means no worrying about an extra external slot on the side, and they could partner with a carrier and roll data into an icloud plan for all your apple devices.


It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if putting cell modems in laptops is actually in service of the years-long development effort they really care about: kicking Qualcomm off the BoM in phones.

They’ve got a cell modem, have been plugging away at it since they bought the line off Intel; it has just been persistently not-as-good. I’d imagine that laptops(where you’ve got comparatively ample options for antenna placement and can do a fair amount of shoving a little extra battery in there if your efficiency problems require it; and where cell modems count as a new feature rather than something that reviewers will be scrutinizing vs. the previous generation because they suspect your modems of sucking; as has happened when they tried bringing their own modems to iPhones) are an attractive place to roll them out.

It doesn’t hurt that, for reasons somewhat puzzling to me, PC OEMs generally treat adding a cell modem as a stupidly premium feature: often not even an option on consumer lines; and will somehow manage to cost more than an entire (low end) cellphone to add just the modem on models that do support it.

Unless Apple’s costs on their modems are just crushingly uncompetitive that seems like an attractive opportunity to either establish cell modems as a baseline for macs that you have to shop around and pay extra for on the PC side(sort of like the ‘Airport’ move back in the day) or sell a rather smaller number of them as a premium-priced feature but see their modem effort actually make some money for once; or some pricing strategy in between.


Will Apple roll out their own cellular network to go with it? Satellite connectivity?

I’ve had at least a couple of ThinkPads with SIM slots for a cellular connection. Of course, when Apple do it, it’s genius and mould-breaking and all that jazz… :grin:


Tether computer to phone? Because if the cellular connection of the phone is bad I don’t see how that helps.

unless my new it reseeds the glaciers, i’m not upgrading. they will have to tear my ancient, barnacle encrusted macbook from my globally warmed, if not quite dead, hands… errr… lap