Apple brick riddle resolved: laser beams?

In Monday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings thinks we just might have solved the Apple "brick" riddle. Not to mention more Error'd...

Seth Weintraub finally reveals the secret:

The MacBook Brick is a block of high-quality, aircraft grade aluminum ... It is the beginning of the new Apple manufacturing process to make

Apple logo
MacBooks. It is totally revolutionary, a game changer ... [Apple] has spent the last few years building an entirely new manufacturing process that uses lasers and jets of water to carve the MacBooks out of a brick of aluminum.


In 1990, Fortune did a piece on Jobs' new production facilities in Fremont California for NeXT. It was, at the time, "The ultimate computer factory" ... But alas, the NeXT hardware didn't gain traction so the facility never really got to push out equipment as Jobs would have hoped.

Jason Chen adds:

[Weintraub] has gone on record as saying that the rumored Apple Brick isn't a product, but a manufacturing process that can make high quality aluminum shells. The "brick" part comes in because the supposed technique carves these MacBook casings with lasers and high pressure water jets out of bricks of aluminum, making for a seamless and screwless design.

Whether or not it's true is still left to be seen, but one benefit would mean that there would be no need to bend metal (which creates weak spots).

MG Siegler peers into the murk:

For weeks, rumors have been circulating that a new Apple product code-named “Brick” was nearing completion. Some said it was a redesigned Mac Mini, others thought it would be a sub-notebook, some thought an Apple TV. It appears now that it is a part of what will be a completely new way to manufacturing notebooks.


The report is pretty vague, but it sounds as if Apple is taking complete control over its MacBook production lines. Right now, the manufacturing is handled in China or Taiwan by companies like Foxconn. It’s not clear if Apple would open a plant here in the United States or simply be in charge of one overseas, but the new process is said to take a brick of aluminum ... and carve from it a MacBook using some sort of new revolutionary laser and jets-of-water system.


Color us intrigued.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt thinks lateral:

It may also be the answer to another mystery that has bedeviled Apple watchers — the innovation that Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, speaking at the last quarterly earnings conference call, warned analysts would cut deeply into Apple’s near term operating margins but result in something that “Apple’s competitors won’t be able to match” for years to come.

And James Robertson chimes in thus:

I've been wondering whether the rise in shipping costs (fuel being the biggest part of that), along with worries over potential political upheavals, might cause a shift in thinking about where to locate plants. Sure, labor is cheaper elsewhere - but a plant located in North America could be heavily automated (keeping labor costs down), and close to shipping points (dropping those costs).

It's not quite that simple, of course - plenty of the products built in Asia are bound for Asia now (and more will be in the future) - but it looks like Apple may be thinking about this subject.

You can practically see Harry McCracken bounce up and down:

I have no clue whether there’s anything to this ... But I want it to be true.


Apple’s laptop designs have been surprisingly unchanged for years now–the MacBook Pro design is essentially that of the PowerBooks that were released in 2003 ... These machines sound like they might turn out to be worth the wait ... they could be the most perfect expression of Apple’s design philosophy to date (the company has labored for years to reduce screws, seams, and other telltale signs that Macs are made by humans, not God; this could let them finish the job).


The story of American computer manufacturing over the past fifteen years has been almost completely dedicated to major companies outsourcing the entire job (often including product design) to a handful of huge Asian companies. Said Asian companies do a good job, but we’ve ended up with a computer industry whose products are remarkably similar.

But Matt Blank pours cold water on the idea:

Seriously though? Laser cutting from a brick of metal? I doubt that. The energy alone for this manufacturing process would push the prices of MBP's even higher than their already sky high rate. Add to that the source of the energy for laser cutting would surely come from a coal fired Chinese power plant, you can just be sure that this laptop really destroys the planet.

And Dave Parrack is blunt:

Is that it? Seriously? I have to say I’m slightly disappointed.


I’m not exactly blown away ... Steve Jobs clearly needs to get out more.

[Hat tip: Techmeme]

And finally...

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 22 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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