It’s not often that a device of this disturbing a magnitude gets through a month or two being under wraps – much less several years. That appears to be the case though, as this eBay listing shows a MacBook Pro with not only a place inside the laptop to insert a SIM card, but a rather ugly slide-up antenna protruding from the side of the display half of the device as well. This device dates back to 2007, while Apple has yet to produce a laptop with any sort of mobile capabilities other than Wi-Fi connectivity – currently users must purchase mobile hotspots or flip the ON switch for their mobile hotspots on their iPhones.
The current owner of this seemingly rather rare prototype machine describes it as a pre-production 2007 15-inch MacBook Pro Santa Rose laptop “with red circuit boards and integrated cellular data functionality.” There’s a rather giant antenna which slides up the side of the device’s display and reads “Tyco Proto / #006″, and under the memory cover on the bottom of the laptop is a standard size SIM card slot. And this is only the beginning – oddities described by the owner of this device are best noted by he himself:
The SIM card board is connected to the logic board via a connector not found on production machines. The solder footprint for it is still present on the production boards and not populated, which is interesting. This would seem to suggest that it was a last minute decision to remove the cellular functionality before going into mass production. The optical drive is marked as a “Sample for Evaluation”. Rather than a normal EMC Number the specifications lapel simply says “XXXX”, and the serial number does not show up in Apple’s online database. Rather than use the machine for parts I of course had to put the time into repairing it to its original condition and see what happened! … Please note that the hard drive, battery, ram, and Magsafe adapter are not the original ones that came with the machine, as I received it without them present. …
The biggest question of course is the cell network data functionality. I have unfortunately been unable to get it working with my SIM card, though it is seen by the operating system and recognized as a modem device usable to connect to the internet with various configuration options. It is entirely possible it can be made to work by someone with more software and driver experience than myself but I can make no guarantees. It could be that there was an additional board originally that was not included with this machine, or that Apple could not work out a contract with a carrier for data service (Perhaps AT&T did not want something sure to be a bandwidth hog on its network), or simply that no driver exists. There are too many unknowns . . . . it is entirely possible it never worked, and there is no way to know without finding someone directly involved in the development of the hardware and not under an NDA. According to the seller (whom I contacted again after realizing what the machine was) he used to work as an engineer at Apple and received the machine for software development work. He was allowed to keep it when he left, and since had used it as a personal machine until it stopped functioning and he sold it to me. He says that he never personally saw the cellular data functionality working and does not know any more about it, as it was not related to his work. All my conclusions are solely speculation based on the hardware present and OS response and should not be taken as fact.
The owner also notes that the antenna’s “#006″ marking likely means that this is the 6th in a line of similar prototypes. He also notes that the Logic Board shows hand-soldered reworking of wires.
What do you think? Does this mean there’s a possibility of a carrier-specific MacBook Pro in the future? Perhaps Apple could be preparing a laptop with multiple carrier bands so that it can be sold without a carrier plan attached? Maybe Apple had this awesome idea back in 2007 but has since decided to put it on the back burner?