MacBook Air: Object of lust or awkward compromise?

It's been interesting watching the reactions to Apple's announcements this week. Probably the most predictable was the disappointment many people expressed (link). After the iPhone announcement last year, almost anything was going to be an anticlimax. At this point Steve Jobs is competing with himself at these keynotes. Never mind that he single-handedly got as much attention as the entirety of CES the week before, if this year's keynote is not more Earth-shaking than the one last year it's a letdown.

Live by the spectacle, die by the spectacle.

To me, the two most interesting announcements were the MacBook Air and the new Apple TV and its associated services. Apple TV is strategic and needs a longer blog post than I have time for tonight. But I'd like to make a quick comment on the Air.

The next PowerBook, or the next PowerBook Duo?

I'm trying to reserve judgment on the Air until I can see one in person. On paper, it makes some uncomfortable compromises. No removable battery, no optical gives me nasty flashbacks of the PowerBook Duo. Like Air, the Duo was very thin and lightweight for its time, and like the Air it compromised on a lot of features. The Duo had a pretty elegant docking station that allowed you to use it as a full computer at your desk, then take the portable part with you when you traveled. I was working at Apple at the time, and I thought the whole concept was pretty clever.

It didn't sell well.

Turned out most people wanted to take the whole computer with them, not just part of the computer. They traded up to a heavier device with full features.

I worry that they might make the same decision about Air.

On the other hand, I just last week I wrote a post lavishly praising the new iPod Nano because its thin, elegant design more than compensates for its somewhat limited feature set. A lot of people criticized the Nano when it was first announced, in part because the photos couldn't do justice to its elegant design. When you saw it in person, it all made sense.

Maybe it will be the same for Air. I want to see and touch one. Maybe the lust factor will overcome the feature shortcomings. Or maybe personal computers are judged differently from music players. We'll find out.


Anonymous said...

i tend to agree that you can not compromise much in the way of features simply for style. on the other hand we could be on the verge of a whole new type of device; one that relies far more on the web for storage and applications and therefore does not need the classic features intact.

is the macbook air the first of this new type of device? or is it an elegant but underpowered 'traditional laptop'?

i tend to think that at least in the US(apple biggest market) 3G data networks are not where they will need to be for the 'next generation' laptops with less built in functionality. i do however believe that such device will be the first to use 3(or 3.5 or 4)G as their primary link to the internet and change the way we look at mobile data away from phones/PDAs.

Anonymous said...

MacBook Air is not a 'portable computer', but a 'portable computing device'. It's not supposed to replace your desktop computer. As an extremely minimalist it doesn't fit in all purposes.

Subnotebook category has failed, because trying to shrink the desktop-replacement notebook. MB Air is compromised in a different way.

You should see MB Air just like iPod and Apple TV. Extremely elegant solution for one particular task.

Even here In Europe missing 3G is not a problem. Using 3G handset with Bluetooth is just perfect.

Elia Freedman said...

So I am in the market for a new laptop. I bike commute to work and currently strap a 6.5 pounder to the back, which doubles the weight of my bike.

Frankly, I think I am a pretty intensive computer user. I write code so I need compilers. I do video editing, listen to music, work on the web, use Excel, PPT, and Word.

So far, I haven't seen anything this system won't let me do.

It's not 1993 anymore. Networking is cheap, bandwidth is affordable, hard drive space is ridiculously abundant.

What things am I worried about? Well, I do care about the removable battery but haven't decided if I care enough to not buy the Air. I care about CD/DVD access but I only use it occasionally anyway and never on the road (I have a dedicated DVD player for that as I can watch 3 movies before running out of juice).

Maybe I'm unique in these ways but I don't think so. I remember people bitching when floppy drives disappeared. I think, to a certain extent, CD drives are the same... If the networked drive works as indicated then I may have everything I need.

Elia Freedman said...

Oh... I forgot to mention. If I do buy it, it will be my first Mac since 1993.

Ben Combee said...

I'm interested in the Macbook Air, but I really wished they went a different direction and had produced the same product, but with a 10" screen. I still use my Foleo, but I'd love to see a fancier Foleo-like product running a full desktop OS. Maybe they just needed more PCB surface area so the 10" screen wouldn't have worked.

I'm also disappointed that Apple didn't go with a higher DPI for their screen on this. It seems limited compared to some of the screens I've seen on other devices.

MikeTeeVee said...

I was surprised to see the MacBook Air has the same (rather large) footprint as the regular MacBook. So this is more of a "carry back and forth" notebook (between home and work). Steve apparently built the MacBook that *HE* wanted.

It's not so much a "use along the way" subnotebook (at cafes, on airline trays, or other cramped spaces).

In the keynote, Steve seemed to rule out making a notebook display smaller than 13 inches.

MikeTeeVee said...

Ben said "I'd love to see a fancier Foleo-like product running a full desktop OS."

Future versions of the Asus Eee will apparently go up to 9 or 10 inch screens.

I have the current 7 inch version which is just a bit too cramped, both screen and keyboard.

Ben Combee said...

I've got a 7" Eee also, and it's not very Foleo-like -- the weight distribution isn't right, the keyboard isn't full size, and there's no real instant-on mode unless you want a very short battery life using standby mode.