AlkSoft / Contents / History / M2: An excerpt from AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group
The following appeared on pages 260 and 261 of AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group by Paul Kunkel and printed by Graphis, Inc., New York, NY in 1997.
M2 PowerBook 5300 Series
Industrial Design: Apple Computer: Masamichi Udagawa; John Howard, Bob Yuan, Ken Weber, John Larkin, product design
Dates of Design: November 1993 - October 1994
Introduced: September 1995
Given the success of the "pure design" approach Daniele De Iuliis had used on Blackbird [PowerBook 5x0 series - ed.] and the number of design awards and positive reviews that product received, many expected Apple's next portable computer, code-named M2, to be an even more compelling design statement. For Masamichi Udagawa, the prospect of supassing Blackbird was within his grasp. On the technical side, M2 would be Apple's first PowerPC PowerBook, with a 10.4-inch screen, touch-sensitive trackpad, wireless infrared networking and other features that wurpassed even the very capable Blackbird.
Yet M2 would be a very different product. With competing laptop computers shrinking in size as their power increased, marketing executive Dave Rothschild thought it wise to position M2 as the smallest full-functioning portable on the market. Given this constraint, fitting a full-size 5.25-inch CD-ROM drive into the case was not possible. Instead M2 would incorporate a 3.5-inch magneto-optical drive, which can record and playback 230-MB disks, making it an effective system for backing up data as well as playing pre-recorded disks. [Accessing the MO drive is accomplished by removing M2's floppy drive and inserting the MO drive in its place.]
To achieve the most expressive design from the smallest possible form factor required IDg's Masamichi Udagawa to negotiate an additional 3 millimeters (slightly more than 0.1 inch) on each side of the product to develop surface details - a request that prompted M2's product designers Matt Herron and John Howard to rearrange the interior [to - ed.] free up an additional four millimeters on the back and one millimeter on the front, thus giving Udagawa even more space in which to work.
Once the product size was set, time became critical. Using lessons learned on Blackbird - such as the eficient use of CAD - allowed Udagawa to complete most of M2's design between January and June 1993, half the time Daniele De Iuliis took to design Blackbird.
"On Blackbird, we learned that certain shapes - such as complex 3D surfaces or four B-splines that meet at a single point - slow the CAD machine down to a crawl," Udagawa notes. "But other features that are visually similar but just slightly different run much faster. So rather than do the hard thing for the sake of doing it, I designed M2 to make the best use of Ken's [sic] Provost's time." [sic] For example, the surfaces to the left and right of the keyboard are analytical curves rather than B-spline - a detail that allows Apple to offer a stretched version of M2 witha full-size CD-ROM drive in a year or two without redesigning the case." [sic]
Rather than luxuriate in complex surfaces, Udagawa limited his B-splines to the corners, the back and the top cover, where they exert maximum visual impact yet do not hinder future modification. For example, the top cover on M2 is totally flat except for two razor thin lines that run around the perimeter of the flat-panel display, which lays just beneath the surface. Though subtle, the lines function in a powerful way by making M2 appear thinner and lighter than it otherwise would be.
Instead of conventional rocker-style feet on the back, Udagawa designed tiny stiletto-feet that disappear inside the product when not in use. The spring-loaded mechanisms are encased in beautiful bulges at the back, achieved through the delicate use of CAD-generated B-surface treatment and a slight shaving of the interior wall thickness (from 2 millimeters to 1.5 millimeters).
Determined to use every last millimeter given to him, Udagawa measured his nearly-completed design, found that he had one extra millimeter on each side, and applied a thin ridge all the way around the case - the only "pure design" element on the product.
"Masa's side detail looks simple, but it's a genius design element," says Tim Parsey. "It takes advantage of where the components are not and achieves the message of slimness that the product needed. It also makes a new statement that hasn't been used on a PowerBook before."
The dark color and spare look of M2 stands in marked contrast to the blunt slab-like shape of the first PowerBook and luxury and drama of Blackbird. It's a quieter statement with details that instill a sense of calm reflection. In all likelihood, Udagawa's design will have greater longevity than its predecessors precisely because it is so simple.