updated 01:03 pm EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Third iteration of modified Apple tablet heads to Kickstarter
Last week, we launched the Crowdfunding Critic here on MacNN and Electronista, and promised that every Tuesday and Thursday we'd highlight a new campaign. While we were working on yesterday's selection, we got wind of this -- the Modbook Pro X, by Modbook, Inc., a modification of Apple's 15.4-inch MacBook Pro into a massive pen-enabled tablet. Based on it, we decided to do our second article in the series a day late, but we think this one is worth the wait.
Modbook has been around since nearly the dawn of the Intel Mac. Then called Axiotron, the company launched a tablet-form Mac from the chassis of a 13-inch MacBook in 2007, winning Best in Show at the Macworld Expo that year. The company relaunched in 2012 as Modbook, Inc., with the ModBook Pro -- a modification of the 13-inch MacBook Pro in a newer enclosure than the original ModBook, with a more modern Wacom digitizer and a ForceGlass pen to offering 512 levels of pen pressure sensitivity. The ModBook Pro remains the only tablet-based Macintosh available.
Starting today, the Mac modification shop has launched a Kickstarter for the Modbook Pro X, a 15.4-inch MacBook Pro-based pen tablet computer with a high-resolution Retina display, up to a 2.8GHz quad-core processor, up to 32GB of RAM and up to 2TB of PCIe flash storage.
The Modbook Pro X incorporates the original hardware of Apple's new model of Retina-display Apple MacBook Pro 15.4-inch base system, and will run the OS X 10.10 Yosemite OS. The drawing and writing surface of the Modbook Pro X has a scratch-resistant ForceGlass screen, with paper-emulating texture that covers the entire 15.4-inch Retina display with a resolution of 2,880 by 1,800 pixels. Users get highly-sensitive pen input, with 2,048 pen pressure levels and pen tilt and rotate functionality.
As the Modbook Pro X is based on original MacBook Pro hardware, the connectivity is the same -- Connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, two USB 3 ports, one SDXC slot, one HDMI port and two Thunderbolt 2 ports.
On the back case of the tablet is the option for what the company calls "Keybars." Keybars are in essence, selected keys within finger-reach on the back case of the tablet that allows users to enter commands and shortcuts with one hand while drawing or writing with the pen in the other hand. The keys are fully user customizable with the Modbook control panel, but the defaults cover most common keystrokes that an OS X tablet user might need, like the command, option, shift, and control keys.
Also available, alongside the Modbook Pro X itself, is a detachable keyboard stand that functions as an easel mount for the Modbook Pro X tablet with a full-size illuminated keyboard. The keyboard stand is designed to support the Modbook Pro X upright at any angle between 30 and 90 degrees. The keyboard has a smart backlight with ambient light sensor, and can pair with up to three devices via Bluetooth.
To be clear, this isn't a "Hackintosh," with third-party hardware running OS X. The computer remains a MacBook Pro, with full Apple OS support, albeit one with no warranty through Apple. Macbook Inc. gives users a one-year warranty, extendible to three years, which includes all components of the Modbook Pro X.
At first glance, the $150,000 target for the Kickstarter seems exorbitant, but when the sheer cost of the project is considered, it really isn't. While there are $1 and $10 "friends of the project" donation tiers, a pledge of $1,999 allows users to convert their own 15.4-inch Retina MacBook Pro to the system, with an expected shipping date of early 2015. There are other funding levels for late December delivery for eight "VIPs" who will assist with making adjustments to the final product. The company plans on being able to ship early-bird specials in the end of January, with a product launch in the end of February.
The Modbook staff is upfront about why they chose Kickstarter for a project of this magnitude. In the project brief, the company says that "the fact is, manufacturing high-end hardware is expensive. It requires a lot of upfront working capital to produce parts, to set up the manufacturing operation, and to offer appropriate service and support. That's why we need your help. It's your support that will bring the Modbook Pro X to life."
While writing this preview, one thought stood out to us - no other company produces any product has a 15.4-inch Retina display with pen input, much less a pen tablet of the same size with 2,048 pressure levels. The company has addressed both of these desires. They claim that most of the technology already exists, and that they've worked for more than a year with manufacturers on the display.
As far as the future goes after the Kickstarter campaign? Nobody really knows what the actual demand for this is going to be. While we believe that the campaign will be successful, demand after the fact may be limited, given the sheer cost of a Retina MacBook Pro, in addition to the $2,000 or more that is necessary for the conversion. The company is also concerned about this, and they do note that this may be the only venue for the product.