by Jason Snell
Why LTE Macs don’t exist
So Microsoft started selling LTE versions of Surface Pro, which prompted understandable questions about why Apple hasn’t ever integrated LTE into Macs.
There are a lot of arguments against putting LTE in Macs that are distractions—Qualcomm’s royalty, for instance—because you need only look at the iPad to see how Apple would approach LTE Macs. They’d be an alternate version for an additional $130 or thereabouts, which would presumably cover the hardware, royalties, and a nice margin.
For those who think it’s silly to have an LTE Mac because why not just tether your iPhone, I once again point you to the existence of the LTE iPad. If Apple thought tethering your phone was just fine for all cases, why would a cellular iPad exist?
No, the real reason LTE Macs don’t exist is because the Mac basically has no built-in way to regulate how apps connect to the Internet. iOS was built from the ground up to differentiate between Wi-Fi and cellular data, which allows users on metered cellular plans to regulate how much data their devices use. Apps behave differently on Wi-Fi than on cellular.
This concept doesn’t really exist on macOS. (I use TripMode, an excellent utility, to manually control how my Mac apps use the Internet when I’m tethered or on a very slow connection.) Apple could absolutely add it, but that requires some (presumably hairy) work on macOS, as well as cooperation from third-party developers.
If Apple had the will to prioritize this, I think we could’ve seen cellular MacBooks years ago. Once again, the cellular iPad colors my thinking here. Its existence suggests that Apple isn’t philosophically opposed to building LTE into every mobile device it makes. It’s just too much trouble to build it into the Mac. (And if you put LTE into a Mac without tools to regulate cellular data, people would destroy their data plans and get very angry, very fast. This happens today on tethered Macs, hence TripMode.)
The pessimist in me says that there are no cellular MacBooks because Apple is putting what limited resources it’s allocating to macOS to other features, and because iOS (or whatever comes after iOS) is the future. The optimist in me figures that if the Mac does indeed keep going forever, at some point Apple’s going to need to make the effort to transform it into a better cellular citizen.