Monday, January 21, 2008

MacBook Air: top 10 things to love about it

While my colleague Dan Warne opined about ten things wrong with the new MacBook Air I've been occupying myself thinking about what's good about it, and why it's a new, positive direction for Apple.
From a positioning perspective the MBA isn't really designed as a replacement for your current Mac but rather as a partner to it. If your main machine is a desktop then the MBA makes perfect sense. I agree that it's harder to justify a MBA if your main machine is already a portable but with technologies like Back to my Mac and .Mac syncing, Apple make it easier than any other PC manufacturer to run two or more machines in tandem.
So with this point in mind let's go.
1. 80GB iPod hard drive is big enough. 80GB's is ample for *most* people on a portable. This isn't going to be your primary machine so 80GB should be adequate for storing all the apps, and most of the media you need while you're on the road. If it's not, then keep your iTunes and iPhoto libraries on an external drive and move between machines. Would you consider a MBA with a 160GB drive? If the answer is yes then just wait a few months.
2. 2GB is more than most. Like the 80GB argument, 2GB is more than enough for most people to perform most tasks. You're not buying a MBA if you need to do HD video editing all day, so what else, except for virtulisation programs like Parallels do you need more Ram for? My bet is that 2GB is enough for 90% of the population - it's certainly adequate to watch a move, work on a spreadsheet and be running Mail and Safari at the same time. If you need to use Windows, install Boot Camp where 2GB is more than enough to run Vista as well
3. 64GB flash-memory SSD is expensive - If it's too expensive, don't buy it. Sure, Dell are only charging $1102 for the same drive SSD drive but this option isn't for those who are price sensitive. It's priced for early adopters to get into and expand the market so value buyers like you and me can access this technology sooner.
4. One USB port is enough for most things on the road. What's the right number of USB ports the MBA should have? 2, 3 or 4? Some people will never be satisfied - If one USB port isn't enough for you then you're not in the target market for this machine. At home I use a USB hub because not even my MacBook Pro has enough ports. While you're out on the road I'll bet you can manage fine with just one and if you need more invest in a $20 USB hub.
It's easy to dismiss the MacBook Air as under-powered, but when you hold one, you might just change your mind.
5. No wireless broadband: Apple manufacture for a global market and I don't think you'll ever see them build wireless broadband into a machine, mainly because there are too many competing standards in the US. Also I think built-in wireless broadband is an option for the corporate market - a market that Apple doesn't 'officially' play in. Think I'm wrong? How many people do you know who paid for their own laptop and chose a built-in wireless broadband option?
6. Processor that's powerful enough for most tasks: What sort of raw-processing power does a computer that checks email, surfs web pages and creates Word documents actually need. My bet is that the standard 1.6 Core2Duo is more than enough for anybody interested in a MBA.
7. No microphone port: Who cares? When was the last time you needed an external microphone anyway? This machine wasn't called 'MacBook Podcast studio' for a reason.
8. Non-replaceable battery: If you're buying one of these machines, you'll replace it before the battery dies. And if you do need a new battery, Apple will replace it for you without a service charge. Would you rather be able to change the battery yourself, or have a lighter machine?
9. Thin but not that thin: 'Steve Jobs says the MacBook Air is thinner at its thickest point than competing notebooks. But the Fujitsu Q2010 is only 19.9mm thick at its thickest point, and that's 0.5mm -- yes half a millimetre -- thicker. However, in the Lifebook, you get integrated HSDPA/3G/GPRS, an ExpressCard slot (34/54), SD card slot, two USB ports, inbuilt VGA out, Ethernet, Firewire, fingerprint sensor. I'd say that functionality is worth an extra half millimetre' - But you don't get OS X.
10. No built-in Ethernet port, no optical drive: Apple has always been a company known for making or breaking technologies. The original Bondi Blue iMac for example shipped sans floppy drive - the market reacted then as it's reacted now to the lack of optical drive, 'Give it back'! But seriously, when was the last time you needed an optical drive out on the road? If you need Ethernet buy the $39 adaptor and keep it in your bag. I did the same with the Apple USB modem, and in two years have used it once.
A better way to think about the MBA is as an engineering exercise for Apple to see how small they could make a laptop, and how the market responds to the compromises it introduces. In twelve months from now, the MacBook Air will probably have a 160GB drive as standard, and may ship with 4GB RAM for the same price. How much better does a machine with those specs sound?
Even if you can't justify the MacBook Air now, don't underestimate the design cues it introduces - my bet is that you'll see them filter down the line and end up in your next MacBook and MacBook Pro

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