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January 17, 2008

Finally a MacBook under 5lbs: The MacBook Air


Apple's brand new ultra-portable notebook, the MacBook Air, was just announced at MacWorld.  The Air, like the normal Macbook, sports a 13.3" screen and a full size keyboard, but at just 3 lbs it's 2 lbs lighter than the MacBook.  Also, the trackpad supports several new multi-touch gestures, like the pinch-zoom gesture.  Looks like multi-touch is slowly appearing in more and more Apple products.  The Air seems like a great machine that will finally satisfy customers who have been eager for a Mac under 5 lbs (something which has been conspicuously absent since the MacBook).  The Air lacks an internal optical drive, but there is a new external Apple SuperDrive for $99.  Also, the battery is not removable, which is already drawing some criticism.  With the Air, it looks like Apple will have to replace the battery for you (for $129).  Hopefully, Apple Stores will even do the replacement.

The Air is already causing a lot of controversy.  People seem to be all freaked out that the Air:

  • Isn't faster (HD RPM, more RAM, faster CPU)
  • Doesn't have a built-in optical drive
  • Doesn't have enough ports
  • Doesn't have a higher capacity hard drive
  • Doesn't offer a lower capacity and cheaper SSD
  • Isn't smaller (apparently some people think a 13" screen makes it not portable enough)
  • Doesn't have a removable battery
  • Doesn't have a big potential market
  • Is too expensive
  • Doesn't have 3G wireless built-in

So here's what I love about the Air, and the resultant conversation: it clearly demonstrates that product development is about trade-offs and difficult decisions, and that satisfying everyone isn't not possible.  With the Air, Apple achieved best-in-class specifications in all the things it prioritized: screen size, keyboard comfort, battery life, weight and thinness.  All of which are the right priorities an ultra-light notebook.

That said, of all the criticisms of the Air, I think the lack of built-in 3G wireless is the most valid.  To me a notebook like this is all about anywhere wireless, not just Wi-Fi wireless.  I also think Apple could have squeezed in one more USB port without much compromise.  With just one USB port, you couldn't even connect a mouse and an iPod or a printer without a USB hub.  I also think that the external SuperDrive, USB ethernet adapter, and remote should be included in the base price of $1799.

As for the potential market for the Air, here's how I think it breaks down:

  • Students
    The Air is perfect for taking notes in class, or taking to study sessions in the library or coffee shop. In college I loved my Sony Vaio 505, which was about 3lbs. 
  • Frequent Travelers
    The Air will be a huge hit with anyone that travels a lot, and doesn't need it for serious production work. 
  • 12" iBook and PowerBook Owners
    The Air is perfect for all those people who have been hanging on to their  12" iBooks and PowerBooks because they just didn't want the heavier MacBook.  And chances are if anyone who's had the 12" iBook or PowerBook will be willing to drop $1800 on a new notebook after all this time.

Anyways, I'm expecting the Air to be a hit.  Now, if they would just announce new MacBook Pros...

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