There’s been a lot of talk about Apple’s latest laptop the MacBook Air, and a lot of this talk seems to be by people who aren’t quite clear on the concept and target market segment. First announced in the middle of January, the Air is ultra-thin, lightweight, and has a seeming dearth of standard features- a move that’s generated no small amount of controversy.
First though, the raw specs:
Thickness: 0.76in max, tapering down to 0.16
Weight: 3 lbs
CPU: special micro Core2 Duo running at 1.6 or 1.8ghz
Ram: 2 gb
HD: either an 80 GB PATA, or 64 GB SSD, both 1.8in size.
Screen: 13.3 @ 1280×800
Bluetooth: 2 + EDR
… and, most notably, the only ports it has are a single USB, headphone jack, and a micro-DVI, in addition to not having any form of internal optical drive (although an external usb DVD+/-DL is available).
The other big innovation is Remote Disc, a software solution that enables the Air to read (via wifi) discs mounted on another Mac or Windows machine, even to the point of being able to boot off them and install an OS (most likely through some implementation of PXE, although the details are unclear).
Reading the sheet, it seems to me that the Air is intended not as a primary machine or desktop replacement, but as a compliment to an existing workstation or server for people who want to be able to do a few things around the house with said machines without being tied to their desk (a niche known as a ‘fat-client’), and for business execs who need something lightweight they can take with them to meetings to show demos and presentations.
However, having browsed around several forums and listened in on a number of conversations, it seems that most of those with a lot of negative opinions are trying to shoehorn it into the category of ‘submicro roadwarrior’ and then complaining when it doesn’t fit:
“It’s too big/wide/etc. It should be 12/9/5 inches, etc”
People who, say, have a server downstairs that contains all of their movies and want a lightweight laptop with a decent screen that they can watch stuff on while lying around on the couch or cooking dinner in the kitchen, and 13″ gives a good compromise between portability and watchability.
Likewise, for someone trying to present a demo in a meeting without a projector, smaller screens aren’t really a plus.
Also, in relative terms of volume, a thinner laptop gives you more room for carrying extra books or marketing material or a few small packages side by side, whereas lopping off an inch or so from the edge of the machine gives you a long narrow area that rarely translates into usable storage space for anything other than some toothpaste.
Regardless of anything Steve Jobs might say about style, a thinner 13″ is generally more effective than a thick 10″.
“It doesn’t have a replaceable battery”
This isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be.
The vast majority of laptop owners don’t have multiple batteries for their laptop(s) anyway, and these days it’s rare to be in a location without a power outlet somewhere nearby. On top of that, carrying around spare batteries largely defeats the purpose of having such a lightweight laptop in the first place.
Unless you’re doing a lot of transcontinental flying on a cheap airline with no power sockets, a single battery is plenty.
Apple has already confirmed that the onboard battery is not permanently attached to the motherboard and can be replaced easily by removing a few screws and the bottom panel of the machine (a process that any reasonably skilled technician can perform in a few minutes), and that they’ll be providing and supporting replacement batteries for some time into the future.
“The ram is not upgradable”
The Air comes with 2GB, which is more than enough for the sorts of things this machine is meant for.
For the most part, all the things that really eat up ram (3D gaming, scientific processing, multimedia creation, etc) are not things you’d be doing on a laptop, and even if you had to run Windows in virtualization (via Parallels or VMware) because of a specific application, you’d have enough to do what you needed to.
Sure 4GB would be nice, but if you need to be editing HDTV movies or running a financial database server on the road, the Air is probably not for you anyway.
“It doesn’t have any ports”
Several external hard drives at the same time?
One usb port really isn’t that much of a limitation for a laptop that doesn’t sit around all the time with a lot of devices plugged into it, and people seem to forget that you can buy a pocket usb hub if you really need it.
The lack of an ethernet port doesn’t phase me either as it’s far more likely I’ll encounter a wifi hotspot in my travels than an wall jack, and if I really need it I can always buy a usb-to-ethernet dongle.
As far as video goes, Apple includes in the box adapters that enable hookup to dvi/vga, anticipating that business folks who do a lot of presentation work will probably be a large part of the core market, moreso than people who need to run a bittorrent server in range of several microwave ovens.
I realize this may come off as sounding defensive, but one thing that’s always bugged me is when people rag on a product when they don’t understand what it’s meant for.
Like when the iPod first came out, the Air is getting bad press from people who don’t understand why it’s so much better than what’s already available.
That having been said, I personally am probably never going to own an Air, precisely because I need neither a fat-client (my primary machine is a MacBook Pro, not a wall-bound tower) nor am I a business exec, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending it strongly to anyone who does fit into those categories.
The Air nicely fills a hole that’s been open in Apple’s laptop lineup for about a decade since the Duo 2300c disappeared in the late 90’s, and is very probably the best laptop on the market within this class.
For more, check out BLAST staffer Mike Preble’s take on it.