I'm a little afraid that Apple may be putting all their eggs in the iPod basket. It seems that new iPods come out every six to nine months while the venerable PowerBook lineup hasn't been refreshed since January and its form factor hasn't changed since 2003. It almost seems like Apple re-org'd all their engineers into the iPod group.
Apple has prided itself on having a lot of firsts with their PowerBooks. When it was announced in 2003, the aluminum PowerBook G4 17-inch was the largest screen laptop in the world, the 12-inch aluminum was Apple's smallest full-feature notebook computer ever. Since then the company hasn't done much with the PowerBook other than a couple very incremental speed bumps. In April 2004, the SuperDrive was bumped to 4x, the processor to 1.5GHz and 128MB of VRAM was optional. In January 2005 the line was bumped again to 1.67GHz, 512MB RAM and larger capacity 5400 RPM drives. Apple also added Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, enhanced trackpads, 30-inch Cinema Display support and a sudden motion sensor.
Apple's not exactly at the back of the class either, they do what you'd expect from any for-profit business - they make a killer notebook enclosure and expect to amortize the R&D expenses over a few models. My issue is that the current Aluminum PowerBook that I'm typing this on feels a little dated and frankly, slow. Even though I have a 120GB hard drive the 2GB of RAM (the max) it takes an eternity to launch applications (Creative Suite 2, for example) and bogs down if I have a lot of stuff running.
Software speed rant aside, Apple really needs to innovate the industrial design like they did with the aluminum PowerBook and the Titanium before it. New cutting-edge design has always been what Apple is about, and it’s what makes people come into the store. Additionally, I think that a super-tiny notebook would be a great addition to the lineup to compete with the Windows offerings in the less than three pound space. Imagine for a minute - the PowerBook nano.
"Honey, I shrunk the PowerBook" the ads would read (with all the appropriate clearances from Disney, of course). The PowerBook nano would be a three pound wunderkind for the executive on the go, students and the fashion conscious. It would be nice if it included a built-in optical drive, but if they had to remove it for space I’d be fine with them offering a reasonably priced matching Firewire model.
Take a look at the success of the iPod nano and imagine it happening to the PowerBook. For a real show-stopper, Jobs could pull an old rabbit out of his hat and offer the PowerBook nano in five colors (cool 2006 colors, please) and offer any color for a $100 upcharge.