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Macintosh Portable: Look Back on Apple's First Portable Macintosh

Updated on Monday, July 25, 2022

iBoysoft author Jessica Shee

Written by

Jessica Shee

Introducing Some Interesting Facts about the Macintosh Portable

Summary: This article introduces Mac's first portable laptop - Macintosh Portable, including its brief history, tech specifications, and why it failed. 

Macintosh Portable

Since Apple released the Macintosh Portable, the first portable Macintosh laptop in 1989, Apple's laptop lineups have had a history of over 30 years. Unlike the modern MacBook, MacBook Air, and  MacBook Pro which enjoys enormous popularity worldwide, the first Apple portable computer was not a hit back then.

Table of Contents:

Apple first laptop

Macintosh Portable: desktop Macintosh goes mobile

The Apple desktop Macintosh computer, unveiled by Steve Jobs in 1984, was an incredible success. Jef Raskin, the user interface guru and also the person who named the Macintosh computer, envisioned the Mac as a portable computer even before the desktop version was launched.

Some original concepts from Jef were achieved on Macintosh desktops like graphical user interface. But ideas Jef believed should be on Apple Macintosh computers were not. For example, a battery-powered Apple laptop could be carried around.

The idea of portability was discontinued then but finally got revived in the following years. Macintosh Portable was the first attempt at making a portable Macintosh personal computer, hoping to extend the glory of the desktop Macintosh.

However, the sales of the Macintosh Portable never reached the expectation that Apple was hoping for, so it was abandoned and replaced by the Powerbook series in 1991.

Macintosh Portable Vs Powerbook

Macintosh Portable: Price and Specs

The Macintosh Portable was innovative at that time, but at a premium price. The device cost $7,300 (with hard drive) in 1989 dollars, equivalent to more than $14,000 in 2021. Apple reduced the price by $1,000 in 1990.

In terms of technical specifications, the Macintosh Portable delivered some advanced technologies.

It used a 16 MHz Motorola MC68HC000 CPU which was as twice faster as Macintosh desktop models released in the same year.

It included an advanced 9.8-inch active-matrix LCD display, offering 640-by-400-pixel black-and-white graphics. The main drawback of the display was poor readability in a low-light situation, so in February 1991 Apple improved the Macintosh Portable with backlighting. But this upgrade cut the battery life in half.

The Macintosh Portable also featured up to 9 MB of SRAM, a 1.44 MB floppy disk drive, and an optional 40 MB 3.5-inch hard disk drive. The lead-acid battery on the non-backlit Macintosh Portable offered up to 10 hours of usage time, which was a great achievement in the 1990s. However, the battery draws the same amount of power when the Portable is turned off or in sleep mode. Moreover, the Macintosh Portable can't be used if it was fully discharged.

Macintosh Portable: why did it fail?

Apple had forecast first-year sales of 50,000 units, but the Macintosh Portable only generated sales of 10,000 units in the first quarter on the market. When it was released, the Los Angeles Times stated "It't too big, too heavy and too expensive". This statement probably can conclude why the Macintosh Portable failed.

The dimensions of this first Apple portable computer are 4.05 inches in height, 15.25 inches in width, and 14.83 inches in depth. The large size made it hard to put into a briefcase or a desk drawer.

Compared with today's ultra-slim and light-weight Apple laptops which weigh less than 3 pounds, the Macintosh Portable is too heavy and bulky. The overall weight of the Macintosh Portable was 16 pounds (7.2 kilograms) and its lead-acid battery contributed to most of its weight. As a portable Macintosh computer, the Macintosh Portable became extremely hard to take on the road. The mobility is flawed.

The Macintosh Portable was one of the most expensive products that Apple has ever sold. The same year, Apple also released its desktop lineup including Macintosh SE, Macintosh SE FDHD, Macintosh IIcx, and Macintosh IIci. Macintosh SE cost between $2,900 to $3,900 and Macintosh II cost between $5,369 - $6,296. As a result, the Macintosh Portable didn't have competition over these Apple computers on the market.

Last words

Even though the Macintosh Portable had flaws, there is no denying that it was a great attempt to explore the possibility of a mobile device. As the first Apple portable Macintosh computer, the Macintosh Portable delivered some futuristic and advanced concepts and technologies.

A lot of commenters say that the timing was not mature for the Mac Portable. Until the later launch of the Powerbook, Apple was following its right path.

FAQ about the Macintosh Portable

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Apple Macintosh Portable was released on September, 1989.

A

Yes, the Macintosh Portable was the first battery-powered Apple laptop launched in 1989. However, considering its weight of 16 pounds, you might find it hard to put it on your laptop.

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The Macintosh Portable was replaced by Powerbook in 1991 due to its large size, heavy weight, and expensive price. The fatal flaw in the Macintosh Portable battery design made this Apple portable computer completely dead if the battery fully discharged even when plugged into an AC power.